A man who lost his axe suspected his neighbour’s son of stealing it. He watched the way the lad walked – exactly like a thief. He watched the boy’s expression – it was that of a thief. He watched the way he talked – just like a thief. In short, all his gestures and actions proclaimed him guilty of theft.
But later he found his axe himself when he went out to dig. And after that, when he saw his neighbour’s son, all the lad’s gestures and actions looked quite unlike those of a thief.
On cloudier days I wonder what, exactly, you’re supposed to do with fear. You realise it’s part of you, has crept beneath the radar into your spirit, your mind (whatever you want to call it) and like briars has grown, like brambles, and the peace you once felt or perhaps mistakenly recall feeling is entangled and torn in those brambles; and through the tiny gaps between the brambles’ branches you watch the world, hear the world, and you recoil from the touch of others. You suspect behind every spoken word a darker motivation, see people glance at you and, in their glances which are quick and penetrating, sense they’re on to you, they’re on to you, they know you’re nothing but a fraud.
You tremble inwardly.
You say to yourself: Ok, ok, I’m afraid, there is fear inside me. Now what do I do?
First reaction is perhaps to say: Ok, ok, I know in my heart and mind that fighting fear is no solution, that fighting fear by trying to shout it down – Be gone! Be gone! – would probably throw coal in the locomotive, so called, black smoke pluming through veins and brain circuits.
That, I know.
Another option is to accept the fear, say: Ok, ok, I’m afraid, there is fear in me.
Thing is, I don’t know how to go about accepting fear. What’s the process? If I could somehow externalize the fear and the dark, make it somehow palpable, like there, right there, before my eyes, could I embrace it? Love it, even? Kill it with kindness, maybe?
But I’ve done that, I think, at least some of it. I’ve accepted that fear contributes far too much machinery to the lens through which I watch the world.
And the process has stopped there. At acceptance of the fact. And I don’t know how to push things forward.
The word ‘fear’ has its roots in the Proto-Indo-European (the hypothetical reconstructed ancestral language of the Indo-European family) base per–, which means ‘to try, risk, come over, go through’ and is possibly connected to the Greek word peira, which means ‘trial, attempt, experience’ and the Latin word periculum, which means ‘trial, risk, danger’.
All this etymology implies that the word we use to describe ‘a sense of uneasiness caused by possible danger or perceived threat’ has, as its ancestors, words related to concepts of a trial, of getting through something. Following the logic, fears are challenges we can either face up to or run away from, challenges we can at least attempt to get through.
Dread, fright, funk, flutter, fit of terror, panic, spasm, the creeps, cold sweat, hair on end, hopelessness, hesitation, suspicion, misgivings, unease, disquiet, collywobbles, butterflies, jumps, gooseflesh, trembling, trembling.
You might ask, and with good reason, why this bothers me. You might say: Look, quit your whining, everybody’s anxious every once in a while, everybody’s got fears, just move on, quit thinking about it. Thinking about fear fuels fear, you might say.
But it does bother me – and what follows isn’t an original or revolutionary thought – it bothers me because it sometimes has a negative effect on my days and nights, and sometimes on my relationships with people. It bothers me because the fear, like Iago, having disguised itself as the benevolent, helpful voice of truth, tells me it is right and proper and wise that I should feel threatened by the world; and so I suspect even the simplest spoken words and I suspect even people I love of having darker, self-interested motivations. And what’s real difficult and sometimes for me at least almost impossible to sort out about all this is that sometimes, yeah, paranoia is the truth, sometimes the things people tell you do have motivations other than the apparently benign. This is where it gets real entangled. This is where the briars are thickest, the brambles asphixiating, where you don’t know whether or not you should believe in your paranoia, whether or not your fears and suspicions are justified, because Jesus you want to believe people, you don’t want to wander alone, skeptical and cynical of everything everybody ever says, you want to believe, you want to surrender yourself (don’t you?) to what you pray to God (if you believe in God) is the decent and selfless and the good, but at the same time you don’t want to end up so completely naive you’re made a fool of, taken for granted, laughed at, ransacked.
Answers on a postcard to…