(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved)
Fear. And not fear of Eric, or of new responsibility, or even fear of the unknown. It was fear of herself.
That fear crouched like a shrivelled loathsome gnome visible to her mind’s eye, grinning in her face, mocking her. She got off the sofa, put on the kettle, and made herself a cup of tea. Maybe that would break its grip on her and she could go on with her evening as she had planned. There was an orchestra concert on the radio she was looking forward to listening to. And maybe she would draw a little on the sketches for her dream house.
But twenty cups of tea would have been no charm against a demon so long in residence. And the question of how her prospective kitchen should relate to the future family room was nothing compared to the problem of how she had gotten to this point in her life and what she should do about it. And she had to do something about it, or her career (she would not allow herself to say “more than her career”) might be in jeopardy.
All right, then, she would confront the demon. She would solve the problem as if she were reconciling a set of contradictory demands from a difficult client. “Design methods, Sandy, design methods,” she told herself. “State the objective, assemble the data, analyze it, define the program, generate alternatives, organize and relate all the different parts, then design it into something useful.
“So . . . why do I act like this, especially towards him? Why am I so afraid?”
Where had the trouble started? It wasn’t her father’s fault. Roderick Beichten had cherished his only daughter and made her feel she was the most beautiful little girl in the world. And the most capable, too. He’d impressed upon her that she could accomplish whatever she dreamed, just like her elder brothers.
She remembered going to her father one day when she was ten or eleven. “Daddy,” she’d said, “Mark wants to be a doctor and Larry says he’s going to be an airline pilot. Daddy, I’ve decided what I want to be when I grow up.”
“So what do you want to be, Honey Sandwich?”
“I want to be an architect,” she’d said, proudly.
“An architect! Good for you!” had been her father’s unreserved response. “That’s a very important job.”
“I know! Dr. Wallace told me last Sunday that an architect made drawings so they could build the new Sunday School rooms. I saw them in the church lobby, on the bulletin board. And there’s a colored picture of what the new part will look like. Oh, Daddy, it is so beautiful! I want to be an architect so I can make pictures like that!”
“Being an architect is about more than drawing pretty pictures of buildings, Honey Sandwich,” he father had said, probingly.
“I know that,” she’d replied with a child’s impatience at the stupidity of grownups. “Dr. Wallace said architects have to show the builders how to make the building really strong so it won’t fall down. And he says our architect will be at church next Sunday and if I want to meet him I can, if it’s all right with you and Mommy. Oh, Daddy, may I?”
“Certainly, if he has time. Architects are very busy people, you know. You will have to work very hard when you become one.” (She distinctly remembered how he’d said “when,” not “if.”)
“Oh, yes, I will! I’m working already! I drew us a new house! Do you want to see it?”
“Of course I do, Honey Sandwich. And I’m glad to hear what you want to be. Not very many girls become architects, but if you study hard and keep drawing, I know you can do as well as any boy out there. Maybe better.” He’d winked. “Now go get those house plans of yours.”
Her rudimentary plans and elevations Roderick Beichten had had framed and hung on the wall of his den, and no one had been prouder than he when Sandy was accepted into the prestigious program at the university.
No, her father was not the source of her fear.
Nor was it her pastor’s doing.
As far back as she could remember, Dr. Wallace had stood tall in the pulpit of the Presbyterian church, saying, “God loved us even when we were His enemies! Jesus His Son died for you, and you have nothing to be afraid of anymore.” She’d been in awe of him in his long black robe with its red velvet stripes on the sleeves and knew he was speaking for God. “There’s no need to be frightened of anything in this world, brothers and sisters,” he would proclaim, “because the perfect love of God casts out all fear. Believe the good news and praise Him for what He has done for you through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
But “Lord help me, I’m still afraid,” she whispered now, staring out towards the streetlight bright through the naked branches of the tree outside her window. Not afraid of losing her salvation, of course not. But afraid of making a total wreck of her life, of losing out on God’s best for her if she didn’t turn things around.
From Dr. Wallace, too, had come the awareness of human work as a vocation from God, to be done to His glory. You didn’t have to be a preacher to serve Jesus, you could and should do it just as well as a salesman or a plumber– or an architect. When she’d realized the connection between the path she had chosen for her life and the Jesus Christ she had come to trust, it filled her with a burst of joy and meaning she wished she could have held onto forever.
Not everyone’s church experience was like hers, she knew that now. Eric’s certainly wasn’t. But certainly, there was no fear there.
Had the fear had came upon her in high school, with the circle she moved in, the subjects she studied, and the teachers who taught them?
She had been a member of the Classical Honors program at her highly-ranked public academy. Her friends had all been Honors students like herself, young people full of glowing ideals and lofty ambitions who prided themselves on rising above the sexual politics and shallow culture of the jocks and the cheerleaders and the general run of hormone-driven teenagers. To the annoyance of their less-favored schoolmates, they had revelled in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Austen; they quoted Ovid and Aquinas (in the original Latin); they were into Shostakovich as well as Steppenwolf; they attended plays, operas, and art exhibitions; they wrote poetry even when it wasn’t assigned; and at times between the boys and the girls they even affected an ironically sincere parody of the conduct and speech of the knights and ladies of Medieval legend. “We must have been insufferable,” Sandy thought now.
But she would not blame her high school experience either. The lessons of her high school days had not given her fear, they had given her the courage to base her life on solid principles. She’d gained a sense of perspective so she was not wholly at the mercy of the fleeting winds of popular culture, and the good sense (when she’d been willing to pay attention to it) to know she was not beyond its influence altogether. No, there was no fear there: Her education, together with her family and her church, had molded her so she emerged at graduation with a set of high standards and a psyche brimming to the full with exalted and noble notions about the holy unity of art and beauty and love and Christian service.
“I was so dedicated and enthusiastic when I started Architecture school! For didn’t I learn that Jesus Christ was the divine Architect when the world was made? And there I was, called to follow in His footsteps, to be an architect like Him.
“And I was a knight in His service.” It hadn’t mattered that she was a girl, that was how she had seen it. “Total devotion to my liege Lord, that called for. Total devotion, and utter purity of mind and body, like a knight before his first battle. It seemed so easy to live up to at the time . . . ” The matter of sex had not come up much in high school: in general, “nice girls didn’t” and anyway, the “Honors monkeys,” as they were cynically dubbed by outsiders, tended to socialize as a pack– “Dating one of the guys in our crowd, that would have been like incest!”
So she had embarked on her freshman year with her moral convictions and her virginity intact. Sex, she had believed, was nothing without true love. And love and sex naturally must be sheltered under the wings of marriage with a Christian young man as committed as she. Otherwise, what eternal meaning had they?
They were good principles she’d started university with. She’d known it then and she knew it now. There was nothing wrong with them. Indeed, she had come around again to them in the end. The weakness had not been in her standards, it was in herself.
“I underestimated what it’d be like out in the real world. You’d think someone as smart as I was supposed to be would recognize what was going on. But no! I giving in all the time and I just thought it was the way things were supposed to be.” She had failed (she was now convinced) to be vigilant; she had let her own wakening desires delude her and lead her off the true path.
And there never seemed to be enough time to make it to church or read the Bible. “I always had school reading to do or somebody was throwing a party or I had one more all-nighter to pull.
“So you forgot what the Scriptures really said,” she said to herself. “You deceived yourself into thinking that compromise was good, that you could generate new standards for yourself that were as good or better than what you learned in church. You knew what was happening, but you let it go on. Idiot, idiot, idiot!”
But maybe she was being too hard on herself. “It was that way for all of us back then. Everything our generation brought with us out of the 1960s . . . free love was good, authority was bad, the guys were afraid of getting drafted to go to Viet Nam so why not live for today? . . . ” Everything around her had conspired to convince her this course was right. “Anybody could have gotten off track,” she comforted her younger self.
But there was no comfort in it. “But I wasn’t just ‘anybody’! I thought I was so different and so superior to my classmates! So aware of what I was up against! Oh, yeah, I was maintaining my standards while they were losing theirs!”
Is fear inevitable for a young person growing up? she wondered. Maybe, she thought now, maybe everyone has to come up against things she can’t immediately handle, so what is false can be broken down and the truly honest and worthy and noble and good erected in its place. But for a girl of her background who was beginning subtly to depart from that background’s ways, the confrontation with fear young Sandy Beichten had been destined to face would shatter more than illusions.