WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Between Wonder and Fear

By Elizabeth Harding

The braver the bull, the wiser the cape.
The shorter the joke, the surer the laugh.
The sadder the tale, the dearer the joy.
The longer the life, the briefer the years.
—excerpt from “Seesaws” by Samuel Hazo

Against red hills, the shadow of a hot air balloon and its basket

A few years ago, when we’d been married only a short time, my husband asked me what I wanted to do on our trip to Sedona, Arizona. I thought a minute and then asked, “Could we go on a hot air balloon ride?”

He made the arrangements. Once in Sedona, we got up at 5:00 a.m., saw a beautiful sunrise, and watched them ignite the inside of the balloon. We climbed in the basket with a whole bunch of strangers.

That was when I told my husband I was afraid of heights.

It was an amazing ride. We saw the red hills up close—close enough to land. We floated past tall trees and watched the sun continue on its journey. I held the basket tightly almost the entire time. The rest of the time, I held on to him. The horizon seemed to never end. It was an amazing flight.

Yesterday, I told our three-year-old son about the ride. I promised him that he could go too, once he’s old enough and tall enough to be in the basket. I realized that it would also be terrifying to take him, because I’d be worried about his safety. At the same time, I would love to watch his face: to experience his wonder as a parent.

Life is full of seesaws: it offers us moments of extreme wonder and moments of fear. There’s a choice to be made, sometimes, between the two. Sometimes, you have to live through the fear for the wonder to arrive, and sometimes they arrive separately. You have to hold on to the basket—and sometimes your loved ones—during the ride, but man, is the scenery worth every moment.

At the time we took the balloon ride, I was a hospice chaplain. Now I’m a bereavement counselor for a hospice. First with patients and now with clients I love, the experience of death as a part of life is a seesaw I live daily. This work has transformed me: my desire for wonder overcomes the awareness of my fear, tilting the seesaw. I choose to put more life into my years.


Spirit of life and love and transformation, may we hold the moments of fear with wisdom and awareness. May they be our teachers, and open us wider in spirit. May we seek out the moments of wonder. May we open ourselves to be overcome by their possibilities, so that we too can become transformed. May it be so.

About the Author

Elizabeth Harding

Elizabeth Harding is one of the affiliated community ministers of Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, IL, and serves as one of the bereavement counselors for Journeycare, the largest non-profit hospice and palliative care provider in the state of Illinois. She lives outside of Chicago with her...


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