Musings from The Brooklyn Mystic
(AKA, Rev. Susan Overland)
“To overcome fear is the greatest adventure of the mind of man.” ~Ernest Holmes (SOM pg. 404.4)
In 1963, my parents moved to an apartment on Palmetto Street in Ridgewood (Queens) NY. It was a section of Palmetto Street shadowed by the eastern end of the Myrtle Avenue El, which at its greatest length ran over the Brooklyn Bridge. The trains that ran on that El were so close to my bedroom window, I could count the people and even see what they were wearing. For reasons only my 8-year-old self could know, I was terrified of the elevated trains! They were loud and clickety-clackety as they sped by; they caused a flickering light effect that would plunge my room from light to shadow to light to shadow – over and over again – like some demented puppet show. I spent many a night willing myself not to fall asleep so I would be prepared to flee if the train slipped its tracks and came hurtling through my bedroom window!
One particular night, however, I crawled from my bed and knelt down at the window with just my eyes peering above the sill. As the train began to slow I watched the sparks fly from the tracks and held my breath, hoping a fire wouldn’t start. But then I began to focus on the people sitting on the train: tired-looking men with abandoned newspapers on the seat next to them, their heads bobbing as the rhythm of the train lulled them to sleep. Women in coats and hats bundled up against the cold, some reading books, others gazing blankly out the window or also napping. And for the minute or two I watched them, I suddenly decided to play a game! I gave them names and made up a story about where they were going and what had occurred in their day. “Sal” worked in a butcher shop and was bringing home bologna for his kid’s school lunch. “Peggy” was coming back from the City after spending the day at Radio City Music Hall – she was one of the Rockettes and some day I’d get to dance with her! Eventually, I would tire and crawl back to bed and include all of my new “friends” in my bedtime prayers. Every night I played and prayed until, before long, my terror had turned to anticipation as I waited eagerly for the train, wondering if I might even catch a glimpse of “Sal” or “Peggy” again!
Fast forward several decades (!) and I am happy to tell you I am no longer terrified of elevated trains. I still love people watching and will often pray for strangers I just happened to encounter. And the greatest gift of this recollection is a reminder to myself that there is a place inside me – and you – than can transform fear by simply creating a new story. Imagination is a powerful gift, isn’t it?