Fear, Itself

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Visiting my mom and grandmother in Tennessee this weekend, I make my way to the door to go for a walk, and my grandma says, be careful! Walking along through her pastoral neighborhood of little boxes made of ticky-tacky all in a row, I pull phone out of pocket to dial a friend. Scrolling through to find her number, I notice the text exchange between me and my mom yesterday…

On my way. Can’t wait to see you!

Same here. Be safe!

Be there between 4:15 & 4:30. I will not be hungry. So sorry.

No problem. Safe travels.

Right then, a woman comes out onto her porch and starts down the stairs. Someone calls from inside: Be careful!

I’ve been thinking about the provocative power of these loving, yet cautionary words ~ these wishes we give to each other and their tacit messages.

The illusion of safety was destroyed for me long ago. On April 16, 2007 to be exact. If a classroom can potentially be a danger zone, or a movie theatre, a church, a dance club…All the places that we consider sacred gathering spots in one way or another have now been violated at one point or another. So why should I spend any of my emotional energy being afraid of a dark alley? Or being suspicious of someone simply because I don’t know him or her?

I could tell my grandmother really didn’t want me to go for a walk this afternoon. It was still kind of raining; she doesn’t really know or trust her own neighborhood very well.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
~Kurt Vonnegut

If I hadn’t gone for that walk, I would have missed a full sensory experience ~ a cool, gentle rain following a fierce, raucous thunderstorm; the smell of wet cedar; blackbirds so large they looked like they could have carried off a small child; steam on the road when the sun peeked through; how walking along in the rain reminded me of being damp seemingly for weeks at a time in summers I worked at Buffalo Mountain Camp.

The thing is, as we grow more and more distrustful of each other, and the world around us, we prevent ourselves from experiencing the fullness of life. Sure, we may get hurt every once in a while, but protecting ourselves from all that life has to offer is its own kind of hurt. With every message that we should BOLO for this or be cautious of strange packages that, we become more susceptible to phenomena like Donald Trump and racial profiling. We can be bought and sold a bill of goods we don’t want based on our own fear and the ignorance that comes along with hiding behind that fear. Which is all so unfortunate because, in my experience, the people who are most likely to do the seismic damage in our lives are already in our lives, so no amount of being sure to lock your car door is really going to help.

Please hear, I’m not saying that we should go about being reckless, or foolish even. Not recommending that we stop carrying insurance or whatever. I just think that a certain level of fear builds up in our bodies, clouds our vision, and becomes its own kind of danger. How many things am I supposed to fear these days? Snakes and ticks and bees and mosquitos and stairs and strangers and suitcases, oh my!

When we wish each other to be careful, what if we actually meant it in the truest sense of the word. Be full of care! Care for yourself (because self-care is a radical act), and radical care for the rest of humanity, and healing care for our planet that cries great tears for the way we are treating her.

Better yet, what if we sent each other out into the world with wishes like Be joyful! or Be most fully yourself today!  How might that transform the way we go about our lives, with the force of our loved ones not just wrapping us in a blanket of protection, but with a mandate to be brave and rip the caution tape from our hearts and our eyes?

“Fear binds people together. And fear disperses them. Courage inspires communities: the courage of an example — for courage is as contagious as fear.”

~ Susan Sontag, “On Courage and Resistance”

 

One Comment

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  1. Thanks for this post, Shannon. A few years ago I finally broke myself of saying “be careful” when the kids head out the door. Instead, I now say “have fun.” Words matter.

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