This I Believe

Elizabeth - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Entered on August 31, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: carpe diem

On a recent Saturday I took a puddle-jumper to Louisville Kentucky for my aunt’s memorial service. The following day I returned home early in the morning on an even smaller commuter plane. Seventeen years ago I probably would not have gotten on that plane because of fear.

In my early twenties I began having anxiety attacks. They rapidly increased in frequency until I was avoiding so many situations where I thought I might have an attack I was in danger of becoming a shut-in, my home being the only place I felt safe and secure. Determined not to lose my life and freedom to fear I learned to control my anxiety using relaxation techniques and sheer will. During that long process I discovered Buddhism and Alan Watts, the renowned academic and Buddhist philosopher. I found Buddhist philosophy a great help in overcoming my fears, so not long after 9/11 when I spied a battered copy of one of his books at a flea market I grabbed it. It was called, “The Wisdom of Insecurity.” With each page I read, Watts’ words were shaping my lifetime of scattered thoughts and beliefs into a cohesive whole. It was my “Ah ha!” moment.

I believe in the Wisdom of Insecurity. The concept is simple. There is no such thing as security. You can take reasonable precautions. You can cross at the light. You can check the pressure in our tires regularly. You can work at having friends and good relationships. Still, in everyone’s life some form of calamity, small or great, is inevitable.

I could have locked myself up in my house for good those many years ago, thinking I would be safe there, but I would not have had a life. And who knows, the house could have burned down around me. When you are able to understand and accept that there is no such thing as security fear dissolves and disappears because fear, like security, is only an illusion. When you accept that there is no such thing as security you stop wasting time worrying about what might happen. You start living every moment.

My flight back from my aunt’s memorial service was the most amazing I have ever had. The sky and the clouds seemed unusually beautiful. I was enraptured by the sights changing and flowing by me as the sun was coming up, one moment seemingly more beautiful than the next. I felt exhilarated. I felt inspired. I felt completely alive.

When I got back to my house I heard on the radio about the plane that had taken off at the same time my plane had 76 miles away in Lexington, Kentucky. It had crashed, killing 49 people on board. If I had reason to get on a plane tomorrow I would and I would make sure I got a window seat because, as a president who sought to give his citizens strength and courage said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”