On the Nature of Fear

Fear is an acquired taste.

It often starts with a moment of misapprehension or an instance of disquiet. It builds slowly in one's guts and mind and heart, sometimes forming an emotion great and horrible.

Fear is that creepy house with the mangy lawn and shuttered windows and the weirdos inside who only move about at night.

Fear is the sense that you are not alone in the water, and that something large and curious is regarding you from below.

Fear is the midnight knock--the one with the terrible news on the night of your daughter's sweet sixteen birthday.

I was leaving the YMCA this afternoon in a serious Florida thunderstorm. I and others ran into the parking lot, scattering like ants in a flood while the sky filled with splinters of lightning and the percussive thunderclaps were near enough to feel on your skin.

When I got to my car safely, I sat there, dripping wet, and watched a murder of crows standing beneath a tree. It occurred to me that the things that frighten us don't scare them at all. Sure, maybe when those crows were hatchlings and heard a Florida thunderstorm for the first time, it might have scared them a little. But even then, on some fundamental level, they probably just understood the storm as nothing more than a chance to cool down and an opportunity to take a bath in thirty minutes.

Their fear, no doubt, comes in the form of that dance they do at the side of the freeway when they risk life and wing to tear into the dead armadillo on the shoulder of the road, trucks flying by at seventy miles an hour. It's there in the sly smile of the boy in the woods and the shiny stick he's shouldering that has lead to the death of all the other animals in his wake.

And for me? Well, my fear is changing as well. The other night I turned on Showtime and watched two films that really hit me on a different level: Clive Barker's The Plague and Open Water 2: Adrift.

These are 'B' movies, to be sure. They didn't make anyone's top tens; they probably both went straight to video.

But they both showed the dangers of what could happen to a parent separated from his or her child. That chilled me, and I couldn't keep myself from watching.

In Open Water 2: Adrift, a mother has fallen overboard from a luxurious yacht. She has no means to climb back to the deck, and while she treads water, her dying husband clutched in her arms, she hears her infant daughter wailing away through a baby monitor on the deck above.

As she shouts above the waves to her daughter, trying to reassure her of her closeness, it's almost too much to take.

CB's The Plague opens up with a normal child--a healthy nine-year-old on the cusp of his first day of second grade--slipping into a state of catatonia. It was another hard thing to look at.

Disconnection. Vulnerability. Isolation. These are the hallmarks of a type of fear I only understood intellectually until five months ago. Now, they seem to make things that go bump in the night look like child's play (and that's just what they are, for the most part, right?)...


Karen from Mentor said...

wow. Awesome post. I understand the emotional state that you're describing. I'd love to tell you that it gets easier....it does...but it won't be soon.

There does come a time where it gets easier to not let unfounded fears overwhelm you.

Oh, long about the time she's 18.

(then you're just left with founded fears)

Karen :0)

Daniel W. Powell said...

Afternoon, Karen,

Thanks for the kind words--yeah, I think those manifested fears are the ones we just learn to deal with. That's natural, but those ones give me a start or two as well!

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