Understanding fear

Fear is a prickly thing. I think human beings are the only species on the planet that regularly talk themselves out of being afraid. Because we do not wish to appear rude, we will get in an elevator with a complete stranger and ride into a subterranean parking garage. Because we do not want to appear stupid, we will refuse to ask for directions, ending up in a very unsavory section the city looking for gas. Because we don’t want to be ridiculed, we let ourselves get dared into activities that we would otherwise NEVER, ever do. And we do all of this while denying or ignoring the fear literally screaming out at us.

 Fear is a primal instinct. The body has nodal sources of fear. We feel fear in our heads, cognitively we know the alleyway is not a wise shortcut. We feel fear in our heart…our chests really. There is a heaviness that clamps down on our hearts, anticipating fear that is unavoidable. Fear of sickness and death reside here. We feel fear in our bellies. Our guts are the most ancient beacon, sounding off fear like a lighthouse. It comes like a wailing siren and cannot be denied. It is what makes us vomit when we see gore or narrowly avoid death. It is the turbine that churns adrenaline into liquid lead that sleuths through our intestines. We also feel fear in our groins. This is the fear of being captured. The fear of abduction, rape and powerlessness. It is so profound and so visceral, that we actual avoid even acknowledging it. No one speaks of this kind of fear.

And we skirt around fear all the time. As a child, I remember the fear of dogs. We would tentatively taunt the Capetta’s German sheppard on the corner because she was behind a chain linked fence. She would rush up to the fence, growling, barking, hopping up onto the fence with her teeth bared, spit hanging from her jowls….pissed as hell. But we were still afraid. We KNEW she was no able to get to us, so we teased the fear in our heads by taunting her. We tested our own mettle. That fear shifts instantly, when you realize, the gate is open and she can actually get to you. There is that moment of hesitation, when you size it all up. Can I run? Am I fast enough? Will someone hear me and come help before she gets me? NOW! And you take off running. You drop lunch boxes, backpacks…everything……because otherwise…..you’re doomed.

Any adult victim of violence knows this calculation, this assessment of power. Who has the power? Who controls the fear?

Once, long ago, before backyards had fences and every lot was a cordoned postage stamp, my block was one long back yard. Before the Croghans built their swimming pool, you could run from the Robsons through to the corner. You ran under clotheslines and through cherry shrubs and hibiscus, but the run was linear. If people had dogs, they were chained. The Caseys had a dog. I ran too close to the radius of her chain and she got me. There was an instant in time, I knew I was too close and she was gonna connect with me. There was no avoiding it. And she got her jaws around my knee. She got a piece of me. In the nanosecond before contact, my fear said……I TOLD YOU! YOU DIDN”T LISTEN! Fear packed up and left me to my humiliation and pain.

Don’t ignore fear. Respect it. It is not esoteric. It is organic. Fear protects you, even when you are too proud or stupid to know better. There is an autodrive programming in all of us that blares the warnings. All we need to do is listen.

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