Today, as I wove between tourists in summer shorts and Orange City residents dressed in wooden shoes and long skirts, carrying a notebook in one hand and a freshly-made stroopwafel in the other, I thought a lot about fear. This isn’t the musing you might expect to have at a tulip festival full of friendly Iowans. It’s probably the least threatening environment you could imagine. The streets were packed with singing, dancing, windmills and plenty of tulips. It was also packed with people, with not a facemask in sight.
My intention is not to make a political stance. We all come from different environments and have adopted different attitudes about face coverings in the context of our individual experiences with the COVID-19 virus. But since we are still in the throes of a pandemic, albeit with a vaccination at the end of the COVID tunnel, I couldn’t help wondering. I wondered if these people felt no fear, packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a time where some have even avoided at-risk family members for fear of getting them sick. I wondered if these people felt no fear, talking and breathing in each other’s faces without any sort of protection. These things never bothered us before March of 2020 and maybe I was the only one who felt unsure. When the crowded streets made me feel compelled to temporarily put on my own face mask (I’m only half-vaccinated at the time of writing this), I felt marked and judged.
I also grappled with my own fear today. For an aspiring reporter, it is surprisingly difficult for me to ask questions of people. Not because I can’t think of questions. Not because I don’t want to ask questions. Rather than coming from a lack of curiosity, my difficulty asking questions comes from a place of fear. I’m at risk of making this sound more profound than it is. At worst, I suffer from mild social anxiety. At best, I’m merely shy and it takes me a little while to “put myself out there.” Approaching strangers and asking them about themselves, inviting myself temporarily into their lives, is something that excites me, but makes me a bit queasy. I got a little bit better at it today, and I expect I will continue to grow in this area as I continue to push myself. But it wasn’t easy, and I am ending this first day at WJI feeling a mixture of satisfaction and regret. I’m satisfied with the work we did, and I feel regret as I wonder how much more I could have done and learned if I only had a more outgoing personality.
I admit it would be nice if I could snap my fingers and exchange my personality - and the quirky fears and anxieties that come with it - with one that seems better suited to on-the-street journalism. But this, aside from being impossible, is not what God would have me do. This year, I have been meditating on 2 Corinthians 12, where God tells Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I know that God has given me a passion for storytelling and listening to people, and I saw reminders of that today. I also saw reminders of my anxiety, one of many thorns in my life. Like Paul, I have pleaded with God to remove it, but I also know that like Paul, God can make me strong where I am weak. So here I am, boasting in my weakness. God, make your power evident this week and for the rest of our lives. Amen.