“There’s no shame in fear, my father told me, what matters is how we face it.” – George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
There’s a lot to be afraid of right now. World leaders are trying to start wars. An entire country is on fire. A virus is spreading faster than scientists can find a cure. Our earth’s climate is changing, and we’re busy arguing over money and ideology. Hate crimes are on the rise. Nuclear threats coming in so fast we don’t know if they’re real or a game. Death tolls and crime rates hit us before we’ve had our breakfast.
The list of things that go bump in the night is frightfully long, and it just keeps getting longer. Every day there’s something new. Every week we say it can’t get any worse. Monday rolls around and there it is! We didn’t see that coming did we? It’s a lot and fear is a natural response.
I’m a worrier by nature and I have a finely tuned startle response. I live in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. Kinda like a Ninja? Sure, except I run, hide, and cry for my mommy. That’s an exaggeration…Mostly. I wouldn’t say I’m a coward but my sense of self-preservation is one with the force. I’m ready for anything. Prepared for danger. A hidey-hole in every corner. Okay, I’m a bag of freeze-dried treats away from being a prepper.
For the first few years of my life, I lived in a country where fear wasn’t an emotion. It was a way of life, and we didn’t even know it. It was ordinary. A typical part of a pretty basic day. It was so normal that I didn’t know how afraid I was until we immigrated to Canada. It wasn’t until I experienced another way of life, that I realized what life I had been living.
In school, I was taught what to do when I was sexually assaulted. It wasn’t a matter of if it would happen. It was assumed it would because assaults were so common. Even as little kids, four and five years old, it was a reality that we had to accept and prepare to face. So my first experience with sex ed was a rape survival class. In Canada? We put condoms on bananas in sixth grade. How’s that for culture clash?
At home, we were taught about home invasions and carjackings. There were bars on our windows and a metal gate seperated the sleeping quarters form the rest of the house. My brother and I learnt how to hide in our special spot. We were told to stay there no matter what happened. No matter how loud the screams or how long the silenced stretched on, we had to stay hidden. We could come out for our grandparents and the police but only if we saw the badges.
Going to the mall meant passing through a security checkpoint. It was kinda like going through airport security except these mall cops wore military-style uniforms and carried assault weapons. A shopping trip came with its own set of lessons. How to find an escape root? Where to hide? What do you do if someone starts shooting or a bomb goes off? We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.
Saying this now, from my home in Canada, it seems so bizarre. How did we live like that and not know we were afraid? How did the fear become so normal? When did it become so commonplace?
Fear, for me, didn’t start with a bang but a whimper. It wasn’t a big act of violence but rather, it was a slow burn. It crept in under the cover of darkness and became a silent squatter in the attic. It was so subtle, so quiet, I didn’t know it had made a home for itself.
After I being sick for so long, the fear grew stronger and louder. It became a master illusionist. It turned caution into a beachside paradise that felt warm and safe. It was a lie, a mirage created to make fear feel rational and reasoned. After all, I can run from gunshots and hide from monsters. I can’t run from an illness that’s trying to kill me, and I can’t hide from the monster that’s inside of me.
Fear becomes a matter of survival or so it seems.
Being afraid is a normal response to a terrifying situation but when it becomes as comfortable as an old sweatshirt? When we can slip it on without thought or hesitation? That’s when fear becomes the toxic friend we hate but one we’ve learned to love and rely on.
If we let it, fear will consume every second of the day and every beat of our heart. It’s so easy to let it run wild because fighting takes so much energy. Hiding is easier than running. Closing our eyes is easier than staring the monster in the face. It’s just easier to feel it than deal with it so the monster lives in comfort and luxury.
Small fears grow into full-blown paranoia faster than we can take a deep breath. We start building bunkers and walls. We buy hazmat suits and N95 masks. We turn away from hard science, proven facts, and listen to the fast-talking salesmen with quick fixes. We blame others for what’s wrong. We go after the people who look different or act differently because we’re too afraid to deal with the monster inside of us. We go after them because it’s easier to blame them than face what really scares us.
There are real things in this world, our own lives, to fear. If we’re paying attention to what’s going on then, we see it and feel it. We can’t pretend that life isn’t scary, and we shouldn’t. Sticking our heads in the sand won’t solve the problem any more than letting the problem consume us, will make it end.
I know fear. I live with fear every day. Sometimes it makes small things seem so much bigger. Other times it makes big things seem insurmountable. These are both lies. I can’t control the fearful things, but I do control my response. I can choose to run, hide, and call my mommy. I can also choose to stand up, face it down, and deal with the situation. I can blame others for my problems or own the problems that are mine. That control is mine and mine alone.
So, with everything out there causing a world of fear, here’s what I’m not going to do: I won’t be so afraid of another culture, country, skin colour, religion, or gender identity that I let racism and bigotry become my default setting. I won’t hate you because you disagree with me. I won’t let fear turn to hate and I won’t let it turn my heart cold.
What I will do? I’ll do my best to turn my fear into compassion and empathy. I’ll try to treat those around me with the same understanding and patience that I need. I’ll try my damndest to live by the golden rule and treat you the way I want to be treated. No matter how hard it is, I’ll try my best to choose kindness over fear and hate.
By all means, call me a bleeding heart if you like. It’s fair. My heart’s taken a lot of hits. It’s pretty bruised and I’m sure there’s a few open wounds as well. However, if my heart bleeds then I know it hasn’t turned to stone. I know that fear hasn’t won yet. It, God willing, gives me the courage I need to make sure fear never wins. It makes sure that I choose kindness, compassion, and I strive for understanding.
That’s how I choose to face the things that go bump in the night. What about you?