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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Brains and Bats

I have been sick for over three weeks now.  I seem to be picking up one virus and then, toward the tail end of that illness, trading it in for another.  I have always been a little on the sickly side.  If any kid brought some kind of bug with them to school one day, my mom could count on me catching it.  Even with my somewhat delicate constitution, however, this is something of a record.  I either need to look into some immune-building homeopathic stuff or the zombie apocalypse is here and I am among the first of its victims.

I love zombie movies.  Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, pretty much anything with "Dead" in the title...I'm there.  Yesterday my two year old, who for blogging purposes hereinafter will be Baby Girl, was chasing one of the cats around the house moaning, "Brrraaaaaiiinnnnsss!"  It was among my proudest parenting moments.  And before you send me a strongly-worded email, no, I have not let her or her brother watch either of the aforementioned movies.  I just have a healthy sense of zombie humor and I might have let her play "Plants vs. Zombies" a couple of times.  Maybe.

I think a love of the macabre is more nature than nurture.  I know there are people who don't enjoy horror movies and don't approach Halloween with glee (or own a brain-shaped Jell-o mold).  I don't think early exposure to zombie culture would have changed them.  My kids are thankfully not squeamish and seem to have inherited a love for the creepy.  Just now the three year old, hereinafter Baby Boy, is watching, per his request, a documentary called "Creepy Creatures."  It's about snakes, bats, and stuff.  A few moments ago he climbed into my lap, giggling, and said, "I'm scared.  It's funny."  He stayed for about ten seconds, then it was back to the recliner and his Rice Krispies.

My biggest fear is bats.  Specifically I am convinced a bat is one day going to be stuck in my hair.  It's a real phobia, I'm told; there is a separate name for it and everything.  I think it started when I was a young teen and we would swim at night with the pool light on.  The bats from our big elm trees would swoop around us, snagging the insects that were attracted by the light.  I know supposedly they have some super-sensitive radar hearing system that would prevent them from mistakenly grabbing my hair rather than the intended junebug, but I wasn't convinced as I ran screaming into the house.

I am the kind of person who is obsessed with facing the things I fear.  I am a little iffy on heights, so I just have to do the zip line.  I never voluntarily faced the whole bat thing though.  I would occasionally stare at them through the glass at a zoo or something, but I did not go to Carlsbad Caverns or anywhere else where I knew they would be.  So God took it upon himself to make me face this particular fear.

I went to undergraduate school at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.  I managed to get through about three years of school bat-free, and then came the summer before my senior year.  I was a history and english major and so at this point nearly all my classes were in the same building, a five story antique called Ferguson.  Unbeknownst to me, every five years or so, Ferguson becomes infested with bats.  The ceiling of the stairway would be downright furry with the little creatures, the stairs speckled with guano.  If  I had known about this, I probably would have switched majors.  As it was, I not only had classes all summer in Ferguson, I had a night class.  Since the ancient elevators were unreliable and slow and I was almost always running late, I had more than one sprint up multiple flights of stairs, notebook held over my head, screaming intermittently like a little girl and trying to ignore the rustling, squeaking ceiling above me.  On one occasion, there was a bat in the classroom trash can.  On another, I was in the neighboring Liberal Arts building to see a professor and had to plaster myself against the wall in a ridiculously narrow hallway to avoid a wayward bat gliding toward me at chest level.  Who does that happen to?  People who are scared to death of bats.      

A year later, I graduated and went to law school... in Austin, Tx.  They have bats.  Lots and lots of bats.  Their minor league hockey team is called the Ice Bats.  It is a bat-obsessed town.  During the spring and early summer a ridiculous number of bats choose to hang out under the Congress Street bridge.  People gather on balconies overlooking Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake), on the bridge itself, and even board little boats, Bat Tours, to see them come out at dusk by the thousands.  Some people that is.  I did not.  I went through my law school years managing to avoid bats almost entirely.  Then a few years after graduation a friend of mine got married.  Her bachelorette party was on a boat on Town Lake in the spring.  If I had thought about it beforehand, I probably would not have gotten on the boat, even though I was a bridesmaid.  But I didn't.  I was just thinking about good times with good friends in one of my favorite towns in the world.  Someone brought it up about ten minutes before sunset in an excited, "Oooo!  Maybe the bats will come out tonight!" kind of way.  My throat went dry.  I started looking for lifeboats.  But since our little barge was about the size of a lifeboat itself, there were none to be found.  I was stuck, quickly approaching the Congress Street bridge.

I prayed that they wouldn't come out.  That I would be able to hide under the awning, not look up at all, and it would be like they weren't even there.  I knew there were plenty of times my friends had been disappointed when they went to watch the bats and did not see them.  Something about the weather made it not to the little furry rats' liking and they stayed put under the bridge.  This, however, was not to be one of those times.

We were maybe a dozen yards or so from the bridge when they started coming out.  If you have never experienced it, I don't think any description can do it justice.  It's not as many bats as you think it is:  it's more.  A huge black cloud started pouring out from under the bridge, squeaking and flapping like crazy.  In moments, they surrounded the boat.  I wanted to scream and dive under a table, but something deep inside of me knew this was a once in a lifetime experience and it would be a real shame to miss it.  So I gutted it up and joined the ladies standing at the edge of the railing, hanging their heads over the side to see the spectacle.  And, I'll admit, it was beautiful.  Amazing.  Indescribable and not to be missed.  None of them got in my hair.

There is much to be gained by facing your fears.  The Bible says "Perfect love casts out fear."  I am sure if I had a pet bat named Vampy that I loved with my whole heart and hand-fed big fat insects, I would not be scared of them anymore at all.  I'm not there yet.  Just typing that gave me the heebie-jeebies.  But if we love God perfectly, we love His creation.  If we trust Him and can see Him in a cloud of bats or a slithery snake, we know we don't have to be afraid.  We might have a moment of sweaty palms or goosebumps, but we can also say with sincerity, "I'm scared.  It's funny."

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