MCKNOTES ON FEAR
I grew up in an atmosphere of fear. My mother was afraid of snakes and swimming. Neither of these are particularly uncommon phobia, but both can be relatively crippling. No amount of negotiation caused her to waver, so swimming lessons were out of the question. Sadly, we learned to be afraid of the water ourselves. My sisters seem to have overcome the fear of swimming. I’m not sure where the fork in the road came that caused me to carry on my mother’s fear of water, but it turns out that I need to stay away from water. Just so you understand that statement, I am a neck breather, so swimming is next to impossible for me. There are some neck breathers who swim by purchasing various gear that prevents water from getting into their stoma, (the hole in the neck that allows laryngectomees to breathe), but even then, it’s a dicey situation.
I’m not nearly as panicked by snakes as my mother was, but I wouldn’t want to come face to fang with one in any sort of surprise scenario.
There’s plenty in life that we can be afraid of. When I went to Vietnam, I was sure that I would not return. Even if I did manage to live through my term of service, I thought the chance of returning with all of my limbs intact was rather unlikely. I admit that I arrived in Vietnam with a fairly gloomy outlook for my future, but after I managed to get through the initial period of shifting from one reception center to the next and finally receiving my assignment, I remember thinking that if this was my last day on earth, I would not let it be clouded with self-doubt and sadness. I guess one would call this my coming of age. Since that day, I have chosen to live relatively unaffected by fear.
There is no point to fear that immobilizes. I’m more afraid of immobility than I am of whatever might cause me reluctance to live freely. Fear can be a good thing, and to live totally without a modicum of fear can be dangerous. I look both ways before crossing the street. I try to make sensible decisions about the things I do in my life. I watch out for the other driver. He or she could be worse than me.
There are always “what if” situations. In my mother’s declining years, she was afraid that she would run out of money and end up on the street. I remember her riding in the car with me at one point. She was crying because she was worried about her finances. She voiced the fear that she would be homeless and living on the street. I was actually offended. I explained that she had three children, and we were simply not going to allow that to happen. I also pointed out that, as we drove, we saw no elderly people wrapped up in blankets and living propped against a curb.
Fear is a real thing, and it can be debilitating. For me, I’d prefer to take a chance on the “what if,” most of the time. There is, of course, a difference between living without allowing fear to dominate one’s every decision or living recklessly. I’m not a reckless person.
It’s also important to realize that we have no control over some things. I have a relative who worries constantly about the weather. Most phone calls start with, “Are you alright?” The other option is “Are you having any weather?” Yes, of course, there’s always weather. If the tornado siren is blaring, I’m aware that it’s not a good time for a picnic, but neither do I run to hide in the basement in response to every cloud that darkens the sky.
I guess I’ve always felt that when my number is up, I need to be ready to go. We don’t really have any control over that. We can keep ourselves healthy in favor of warding off quite a few of the risks that might otherwise befall us.
I think that this might be the definition of faith. I have faith that I am ready to go when I am taken, but I’m not volunteering. That seems sensible to me.
Post Script: Lest you think otherwise, I wrote this prior to toast that Vice President Biden made, recognizing President Obama for the absence of fear.