After my last post about fear, I happened to look around my office and realize that I have a shrine to Edgar Allan Poe right behind me. Above me there is a gargoyle that my husband made in pottery class and there are various ravens and gargoyles all around the office. I find them amusing in a way. But I do wonder about the fascination that people have with frightening stories (or horror films...not me...I hate to be startled). It seems that fear is a gripping and tantalizing thing to contemplate. Am I facing my fears when I read Poe? Am I wallowing in them? I don't know. But I love the little guy and feel kind of sorry for him too. I put in a quote above that I think might sum up the way he felt toward the end. I think it's a fairly late poem and it's called "For Annie." You should read it. Also, read Ligeia. I think it's probably his best story.
Since I am talking about fear I thought I might start with a list of things that scare me. Two things before the list gets started. First, I am not the most fearful person in the universe. That trophy goes to a guy named Tyler that I met in an education class. As a "Getting to Know You" exercise we had to list things that we were afraid of within a three minute period. I cannot top Tyler. He had a great run and didn't even have to THINK about things he was afraid of...and it was everything too...from wearing the wrong clothes to having a satellite fall on his head to crossing the street. He actually made me feel brave. Second, my fears are not ever present. I am thinking about them NOW as an exercise. I am not pathologically afraid all the time. After dark or when I have PMS...okay I might be a little over the top then.
Here it is! Julie's Litany of Fears!
1. I am afraid that we will lose our income or that our retirement savings will go up in a puff of unregulated smoke.
2. I am afraid that I would not have the necessary skills required to survive as a homeless person if the above happens.
3. I am afraid that some crazy person will shoot or blow up my kids. (Or me or my husband...but only secondarily)
4. I am a little afraid to cross the street...I was hit by a car crossing the street with my friend Joey when I was 4 on a quest for bottle caps from the neighbor kids across the street.
5. I am afraid that antibiotics will quit working and I will die of a sinus infection. (Or a bad cold, or a cut finger, or...)
6. I am afraid that I will be weeding my garden and get a copper head bite (and I heard somewhere that there are anti-venom shortages).
7. I am afraid for my younger daughter to start driving. (She's a lot like me).
8. I am afraid that my older daughter will get into an accident driving. (It would probably not be her fault...she's a good driver)
9. I am sometimes afraid to drive because I am a little absent minded.
10. I am afraid that the dog can open our doors and jump on the fed-ex carrier. (They are shaped in a sort of s curve and not rounded. So I always lock them.)
11. I am afraid Fed ex will sue us if the above happens.
12. I am afraid that I will offend someone by saying something thoughtless.
13. I am afraid that my younger daughter will develop a severe allergy to insect stings (she swells up really badly already with a sting.)
14. I am afraid that I will lose some of my friends to illness and age.
15. I am afraid that I will lose myself to illness and age.
16. I am afraid that our country will get involved in another war.
17. I am afraid that we have some people in our country who may want to start some sort of civil war.
I8. Sometimes at night, I am afraid of irrational things...like ghosts, or monsters or other creatures or entities unidentified by modern science. (I can't be the only one...I mean, c'mon at night? Out by yourself? Really? Didn't you hear that funny sound behind you? You've never heard that before right? It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up didn't it?)
19. I am afraid that I'm a failure and I'm too old to do anything about it. (3 years from 50...I know that could offend some people....it kind of offends me but I'm just being honest.)
20. I am afraid of sounding stupid. ( Not really being stupid...just sounding stupid. Now that I just typed that I am afraid I'm shallow.)
Okay....that's enough. It is actually scary how quickly I came up with that list. I could go on, I suppose but I don't really want to. I try not to be afraid of things all the time and that list is probably not helping. But I want to know what it means to the way I conduct my life to have these things bubbling up under the surface. I have been thinking a lot about fear lately. Fear of other people and their ideas seems to be rampant in our society. Yoda could have been talking about us when he said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Because I think many of the decisions we make as a society right now are based in fear. And who knows how much my own decisions are driven by it. I would like to think I could live my life with less fear. Would I be better off? Would we all be better off if more of us fought off the fear that helps us make our decisions?
The first thought that crosses my mind as a practicing Christian is that I am supposedly the follower of a man who was homeless for the last few years of his life. He depended on his friends to feed him and give him shelter. He didn't have a retirement plan. He said what he wanted in spite of the fact that it was obvious that it made powerful people want to kill him. And, of course, they did. That is a life without fear, or at least a life fully lived in spite of fear; What about Socrates? What about Martin Luther King, Jr.? Those are lives without fear. It gives a person pause for thought. I am not any more eager than the rich young ruler to follow down that path because I like having a place to live and I love eating. And I also don't want to be killed. I don't even like to be ridiculed. It hurts my feelings.
Maybe fear has some use in keeping us safe and well fed. But is it worth it? Can you balance fear with courage? Is it ever okay to base a decision on fear. (There's no use saying you shouldn't feel fear. Everyone does sometimes.) Is it okay to be afraid if you are afraid for other people? Is fear okay if it leads to certain kinds of results but not others? Can you be afraid and make good decisions? What kind of fear, if any, helps us individually or as societies? Can a person help being afraid during difficult circumstances? Is is just a personality trait? I don't know. But I have a strange sinking suspicion that basing all your decisions on fear and self preservation is not the best way to live your life...even if the consequences are unpleasant.