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July 28, 2011

Originally posted  5December2007…

Fear. I have a lot of fears. Some rational, some not. For example, a fear of falling onto the tracks from the subway platform – totally rational. My fear of looking out windows at night – not so rational. My fear of losing someone I love – rational. It happens. My fear of losing everyone I love on the same day in a series of unfortunate, unrelated, cataclysmic events – probably not rational.

A lot of people have a lot of things to say about the subject. Bob Dylan said people’s greatest fear is silence. Rosa Parks said that knowing what one must do diminishes fear. A Japanese proverb says fear is only as deep as the mind allows. And (you knew this was coming) the Dalai Lama says that the key to ridding yourself of fear is to practice compassion and inner peace. This just happens to be his answer for, well, everything.

When I was a kid, the Bible was an answer for everything. The Good Book talks about fear a lot – all types of fears – cowardice, godly fear, guilty fear. “Do not fear, for I am with you”. (Isaiah 41:10) This scripture was recited constantly as a cure-all for the fears of my childhood. Of course, we’re also told in this same book to fear God, to fear his wrath, then not to fear, we have no reason to fear, only the unrighteous are fearful … it can all be very confusing. The situation is not helped by the fact that there are several Hebrew and Greek words, with different meanings, that all translate to the one English word, fear. For example, the Hebrew word yare’, which depending on how it’s used, can mean to feel afraid, to be in awe of, reverence, honor, respect, to inspire reverence, to cause astonishment. I wonder how many people who read the Bible and allow it to guide their life actually consider the meaning of each instance. Maybe all of them do, I just don’t know. If one were to look up the word fear in an English dictionary, it would list a meaning of reverential awe, though I very rarely hear the word used in this way. If someone were to mention feeling fearful when they were at the Grand Canyon, for instance, they would likely be referring to the height and a fear of falling over the edge, rather than the awe and amazement they felt at it’s size and grandeur.

This past week I’ve been trying to notice each time somebody mentions a fear or feeling afraid. My very in-depth and totally accurate investigation which I carried out by basically eavesdropping and then trying to remember what was said (that’s how it’s done, right?) has revealed to me that, surprise! we’re all the same. The list of things that we’re afraid of includes abandonment, bugs, loss, death, life, failure, success, intimacy, commitment, getting caught, change, reality television, calories, poverty, money, heights, losing, winning, love, hate, alienation, flying, regret, solitude, illness, suffering, terrorists, Cheney, Guiliani, ignorance, just to name a few.

So, what to do? Well some fears are totally manageable. My fear of going over the edge on the subway platform? I just stay behind the yellow line. And I also keep an eye out for crazy people who may want to push me over the edge. (Look, it happened on an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, and as we all know, TV is an actual portrayal of real life.) My fear of looking out the window at night? I just don’t do it. Fear of losing the people I love, one at a time or all at once? Well, the fact is that I will lose the people I love eventually. Death is a part of life. All I can do is try to be good to them, and love them as best as I possibly can in each moment. Rosa Parks says we should have a plan, H.H. the D.L. says we should practice compassion and seek inner peace, and the Japanese say, don’t let fear in. The Apostle John said there is no fear in love. I get his point, but love is pretty darn scary. And if we really think about it, don’t all fears boil down to a fear of losing who and what we love?

A very good friend of mine responded very wisely to one of my earlier posts with advice that I think is excellent. In my post about prayer, I mentioned my fear of take-off and landing while flying. He said the way he deals with anxiety while flying due to turbulence, for example, is to say, “This is where I am, and this is what is happening”. Isn’t my friend smart? I really hope I don’t lose him in a series of unfortunate, cataclysmic events.

What do you fear, dear readers? And what do you do about it?

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