A streak of fear runs through my life.
I am not sure where it all comes from—fear of the dark, being alone, heights, swimming, riding a bike, eating fish. Okay, I’ve gotten over some of these. But it’s lurking there, behind my charming smile.
Everyone needs food, and water, and air. We need security and friendship and family. We need self-respect and the respect of others. We need to believe our lives mean something. We need a purpose. And so we are afraid of losing all of these. Many of the stories we read, the TV shows and movies we watch, and the news items that fascinate us are about people losing one or all of these human needs.
Many of our fears come down to being afraid of the unknown. The unknown is most of the world. The unknown is tomorrow. Frankly, it is the next second. Anything can happen, and often does, regardless of the quality of our home, diet, health regimen, doctor, religious practices, equipment, bank account, or insurance policy.
It may be that all fear comes from the big one: discovering that we have to take a test for which we are unprepared, and that we are only wearing underwear. No, that’s a bad dream. The big one is the grim reaper.
I am terrified of death. I can’t think of anything lonelier—the lonesome valley of the old song. Five years ago I had a cancerous tumor removed from colon. I was terrified in the moments before I was anesthetized. I remember a nurse taking my hand in hers, and nothing after that, until I woke up to see my goal for the day written on a white board at the end of my hospital bed: pass gas. I went on to achieve this and more.
That anonymous nurse who held my hand knew how frightened I was. I was afraid of never waking up. I was terrified of that lonesome valley.
Over the years I’ve learned how to swim and ride a bike and bluster my way through heights. I’m (mostly) not afraid of the dark. But the underlying, deeper fear remains, tainting my life. Too many of my actions have been dictated by this subterranean river of terror, rather than some more thoughtful, enlightened part of my being.
Fear has led me to abandon course too many times—on careers, educational opportunities, relationships, adventures—in ways that had nothing to do with my wellbeing or what I wished for myself. On the other hand, fear has made me a funny man—you’d be surprised how many quirky ideas come into the head of a person who is dancing to avoid one of those bullets catching him in the foot.
I don’t think I’m unique in this regard. I think lots of us are being driven by fear more than we would like to admit—if not of death and loneliness, than of being a failure, or irrelevance, or having our stuff taken away. I imagine there are as many things to be afraid of as there are people. And I am sure there are some well-adjusted folks out there, many of them serving in Congress, who have no idea what I’m talking about.
I’ve successfully battled this nemesis before. I am not happy that it has reappeared, but I am grateful that I am aware, because I won’t be blindsided again. Not as long as I remain mindful.
I’ve awakened from a nightmare and see the bogeyman there at the end of my bed, telling me to pass gas. No, he’s really telling me to run—from him, from pain, because running appears to be easier. This time I’m not listening. I’m looking him in the eye right now. He’s just part of me, but he’s not in charge. I am.