Fear: it means monsters under the bed, spiders unexpectedly nearby, and the clenched anticipation of the doctor’s needle as it plunges towards the skin. FDR famously stated that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
For most of my life, I have lived in this state of baseless unjustified fear. Every time I’ve learned something new, it has turned into something frightening. The concept of dinosaurs brought on the fear of personal extinction, just as Noah’s Ark brought nightmares of being lost in floodwaters. I have lived so: panicking during confrontations, anxious under insecurity, and constantly assuming catastrophic failure.
Yet, never before I met a mouse had I been so torn at the thought of my fear. You see, certain types of frightfulness can lead one to be—comfortable. It’s in the ease of being too afraid to step forward, and the self-reassurance that where you are is where you wanted to be, anyway.
That’s where I was as a camp counselor last summer. I was in an effortless state of denial, telling myself that as long as my external composure remained intact that everything else would eventually work out…I was comfortable. As counselors, we would stay alone in our cabins on weekends, relaxing before having to jump into a new week. There I was, on a Saturday night, in a walled tent, completely exhausted. When I heard a rustling near my head I began to panic. The flashlight was found and quickly and unsteadily flashed on…a tiny mouse. The shock of a mouse skittering around by my head on a top bunk led to intense anxiety, building and building, until I was a mess, in tears, escaping the horror of the cabin, carrying my sleeping bag…
The week that followed was…tough. I had not only to experience the fear festering inside of me, but also calm the worries of fourteen young girls. As I was constantly aware of a tangible fear, I began to be uneasy holding in so much internal anxiety. It finally came to a point where I was finished—completely broken.
It ended up not really being about a mouse. It was lightning that just might strike exactly where I stood. It was the cringe at the expected shot of a gun. It was the dreadful anticipation of the phone call announcing the death of a loved one, and the horrifying realization of living an insignificant life. It came from the deepest, darkest guilty secrets, the buildup of fearing abandonment and rejection and unexpected death. As I let it all go, I allowed a new me enter in— Was I still afraid? Of course. But. The knowledge that I’d survive was: everything.
I believe that sometimes the smallest things we must confront can define us—that in those definitions we can cling to a crazy hope that we are the better for what we seem to have so insignificantly conquered.
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