I live in fear every day. Some days more than others. Like the London fog, it rarely leaves. And when it does leave, it hasn’t gone far. Fear can be crippling. It is a master thief. It robs us of more than we realize.
An extraordinary song by Marc Cohn, an e-mail exchange with a loved one, and a recent discussion with a group of trauma survivors has me pondering the presence of fear in far too many lives. Like the song, “One Safe Place,” by Mr. Cohn reminds us, we all deserve a sanctuary.
Life happens to us whether we like it or not. Life, unlike people, knows no bigotry. It visits all of us. It brings us its greatest rewards if we stay open to them: the love of a fellow human being, the joy of loving another human being, the sweetness of a soft morning mist, a baby’s laughter, a piece of music that sends chills of joy riding up and down our spine and wets our eyes. Life brings fear too. There is a Life Growth phrase that says, It’s okay to be afraid, don’t let is scare you. The phrase seeks to help someone discover they have a relationship with the fear and thus have some say in the relationship. The idea is to wrest as much decision making power from the fear as possible by going towards and through the fear. Believe me, I am not always able to do it. But when I do, the results are not as horrifying as I thought they would be.
Not long after I was shot in the head in 1984 I was held up again at gunpoint and did what any sane person would do, I retreated into my home and did not leave it for nearly one year. Fear had me by the throat. It robbed me of participation in the world around me. How did I get free of it, at least to the point I could leave my home? Acceptance. Acceptance does not, I repeat, does not mean giving in to it. The equation goes like this; you have to accept it in order to manage it and you have to manage it in order to get free of it. You have to go through it.
We can be a spoiled lot at times. We want short cuts. Smokers want to defeat the cigarrette habit with a patch, hypnosis, nicotine gum, or accupuncture (I’ve always thought there should inaccupuncture too. Fairness, you know). In other words, they want to kick the habit without going through the experience of, well, kicking the habit (bet you didn’t see that coming).
There are some common sources of fear: violence, disease, death, loss of employment, end of relationship, of marriage, and so forth. But there are other fear-laden landscapes where the master thief robs more from our lives: fear of loving someone fully and allowing someone to love you. Fear of following your dreams: going back to school, picking up some paints because you’ve always wanted to paint, learning how to play an instrument because you think you’re too old or lack talent, and so forth.
We ought to jail fear every chance we get. The only way to jail it is to move through it. Will it be easy? No.
Hear me. You go through the fear and you will come out the other side. You will notice that you made it. You’re still breathing. It didn’t kill you (that’s what we think it wants to do, isn’t it?). You are alive and face to face a new kind of glory – you. Each time you go through the fear you erase more and more of its ability to control you and rob you of your dreams in life. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll paint that painting, play that instrument, love that person and let that person love you. Impossibilities become possibilities. And one of the last things in the world that deserves to rob you of your dreams and your possibilities is fear.
Remember, it’s okay to be afraid, don’t let it scare you. Remember to live.