Fear is a thing, people. It slouches, menacing, no respecter of persons, and is worse than any Harry Potter dementor.
And no, I don’t mean Trump.
Fear of ignorance. Fear of a life unlived. Fear of a country divided. Fear of irreparable damage to the heart. Fear of hospitals. Fear of tardies. Fear of tornadoes. Fear of blindness. Fear of balding. Fear of fat. Fear of being forgotten. Fear of failure. Fear that my words are, in fact, me.
My middle school daughter faces fear often: she suffers from panic nearly daily. For her it can be paralyzing. In helping her through this I’ve met a few of my own demons, and they’re not friendly.
While researching anxiety we’ve talked with doctors, school counselors, church advisors, parents, and friends, and have found hope where you would most expect it, in the divine, The New Testament, 2 Timothy 1:7.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a strong mind.”
This has become our mantra. Like a small worry stone smoothed through years of thumbing, we repeat this scripture often, text it, Scotch-tape it to the wall. Reciting it helps rub out fear and replace it with something more. Hope.
But other days we flounder far from ourselves, from one another, from God. And we are not alone. The world is fettered with fear. Political and cultural events trending with #2016sucks to Trump to body shaming Lady Gaga’s recent Superbowl performance are the cause célèbre. Truth appears fickle, the world unbalanced. And the machine that is the Internet is a monster that won’t stop.
Fear is the undergirding thing here, but it’s nothing new, only wears a new face. Poets write about fear, try to made sense of it, as Yeats does in his poem, “The Second Coming:”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
This is not a new dystopian a la 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Giver. Written nearly one hundred years ago, these words are as relevant as ever today. Wars. Rumors of wars. Dread. Cataclysmic change. How can we succeed in a world with so much fear at stake, both near and far, personal and pervasive?
Perhaps it is in replacing our angst with action, shifting from fear to possibility. Reaching for God, wherever we find him. Not that our fear is gone (it still surrounds in all it’s variety), but it’s lessened as a result of our action. Move. Go. Do.
Last fall I was afraid to stay in this far away strange new city, so I chose the least likely thing: to remain. Since then, I both love and loathe the choice, and life rolls onward. So we are beginning to begin again. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Pluck up that courage, face the Next Big Thing or whatever makes your heart want to hide. Move. Go. Do. These actions change you, thrust you into the new, crunch you into a PhD learning curve and eventually you do gain perspective, even if thrashing along the way. I know.
Dory was right, keep on swimming. Despite fear that can deaden, numb, slouch towards us when we least expect it. Another idea is to do what E.E. Cummings once suggested, “Since the thing perhaps is to eat flowers and not be afraid.” When we enjoy something delightful, read, draw, create, it draws us away from the fear zone. I adore carnations, nibble them at weddings on the sly, snacked on my high school prom corsage, and at funerals, well, if a few flowers go missing, who knows?
My daughter, the one who fights fear, faced it today in spades. She loathes the orthodontist. We have canceled, rescheduled, and gone contortionist in order to get her through nearly 24-months of appointments to reach today. She got her braces off. Despite tears, Himalayas of Kleenex, and limbs numb with fear, she did it. She kept at it, looked fear in the eye, and refused to back down. That’s my girl.
“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.” -Barbara Kingsolver
We persevere because we must. Fear might be part of life, but the divine is part of life, too. Move. Go. Do. Read. Draw. Create. Tell fear to take a backseat because, sister, we’re driving.