Living with Fear

I’m pretty sure that you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t felt a significant increase in fear over the past several months. Actually, I think even those of you under those rocks are feeling a bit insecure these days, peeking out at the rest of us running around like chickens with their heads cut off and wondering when we’re going to stop kicking all the dust around.

It’s pretty hard to create in the middle of all this. But you know what’s harder? Not creating. Let me explain.

The darkness is always there. Even when we think everything’s hunky dory, somewhere, it’s just not. This is not a phenomena new to the 21st century, either. If anything, the surge we had in awareness around human rights issues of all kinds in the last few decades was a breakthrough, a huge divergence from the cavemen mentalities so many of us had been laboring under for so long. And whenever breakthroughs happen, there are severe backlashes. That said, no matter how evolved we eventually become – and I do believe that we will move beyond this, and make further breakthroughs – we will always be afraid of what we don’t know, and our knowledge will always be limited.

Wait a dang second, you’re thinking. This is supposed to be a pep talk?

Yes, it is. Because I’m going to go against the grain of the white male patriarchy for just a sec and say that the thing to fear is not fear itself. In fact, if we fear our fear, we just encourage it. Just as a for instance, say we are writers who are too afraid to create because we’ve just had it up to here with fear lately, thank you very much, and we think it’s time to look into accounting. We can do that – it would be a good way to avoid fear temporarily – but we will have done exactly what fear wants us to do to keep it alive. We will have avoided our most meaningful experiences and expressions, thus rendering ourselves even more unhappy and insecure — opening the opportunity for fear to muscle in just a little bit more.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t feel fear, or that we can expect to get all enlightened and walk through our fears as if we don’t feel how painfully they burn our feet when we most want to move forward. Fear cannot be eradicated. For as long as humans are alive, we will break each others’ hearts. The trick is, I think, is to move forward anyway. Not because we are heartless, but because we are courageous. Courage comes from the French word for heart: Coeur. It means to have heart not just when there are rainbows and unicorns dancing around us, but when someone’s kicking the unicorns and saying rainbows don’t exist. The very moment, in fact, when we most want to turn inward is the moment to turn outward, to stand up and say we are absolutely, 110% terrified, that we are living with an unacceptable amount of fear, and that we are going to live through it and beyond it. Because fear is most dangerous when it festers, when we think it’s more than we or our loved ones can handle, and we try to either pretend it’s not there, or that we can overcome it. Those things are not happening; trust me, I’ve tried both six ways from Sunday.

But something far more astonishing is possible: to be joyous and creative and open-hearted and loving even when your heart is breaking under the strain of, say, simply reading the newspaper, or trying to live through the staggering humanitarian backlash on parade right now. We can live through this fear. We can create through this fear. We can do these things for ourselves, and for others, as a reminder that fear is nothing more than a bully who fights dirty because he knows he can never truly win.

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