Living With Fear

You know what I really miss about being young? Fearlessness. The utter confidence – in fact, the absolute certainty – that nothing bad is going to happen to you. As you were walking out the door to meet your friends at a party your mother would yell, “Be SAFE!” And you would think, why does she even worry? I’m going to be totally fine.

I have lost that certainty over the years and I wish I still had it. I don’t like that a lot of my time is spent being fearful. Not worrying, because I’ve learned to let that go. A friend of mine once said that worry is lack of faith in God. It was a powerful idea that helps me get through a lot of days. I know I don’t have any control over most of that territory anyway.

But somehow I can’t translate that to fear, and the fear feels different than the worry (it IS an instinct after all). Maybe it’s because I know more of the world than I did when I was younger. Or I’ve outgrown the ability to completely block it out. Maybe because I’ve lost friends and seen people suffer and I know anything can and does happen.

I hate to admit it but the gun violence has really gotten to me. I have one night out a week to do whatever I want, and often that means going to the movies. But since Aurora I haven’t been able to go alone. My husband said, “A tornado ripped up a bunch of houses in Springfield, are you afraid of houses now?”

It’s not just that though. I’ve taken up biking again (which usually happens every summer and ends every winter) and have been spending a lot of time riding the bike paths. Often I go alone when the kids are at practice. I start out feeling fine and excited for a ride, and halfway through I start to feel dread.

I suspect everyone. That comes from watching Dexter, of course (damn you John Lithgow). But it’s even worse when somebody gives me a reason to suspect them, like the guy who looked like maybe he hadn’t taken his meds. I felt the nervousness begin. Granted, this was after almost being run over by a car and another biker, so my nerves were already on edge.

I reassured myself that I was fine, and kept on going. I’m on a bike and I’m fast, big, and strong (also damn you Chris Bohjalian for “The Double Bind”). I tried to calm myself down and keep riding, and think about why I get so scared. Then it hit me why this worry feels more intense than ever. Because nothing CAN happen to me. I have kids. I can’t not come home from this bike ride.

So I have to summon up that faith. I don’t want to be afraid to have a life. I can’t let the fear stop me. I go out riding as often as I can and look at the sunset and smell the BBQs and enjoy the feeling that exercise gives me. But there is always a very quiet little voice in the back of my mind saying God, get me back to my kids safely.

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2 thoughts on “Living With Fear

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful and timely post on this important topic of fear (and vulnerability) that (I believe) is heightened by the experience of parenthood (for both mothers and fathers).

    Before parenthood, I was adventurous, relatively fearless, and rarely contemplated my own mortality. I climbed mountains and rock formations (often alone and without a rope), I traveled to remote wilderness areas in the US and abroad (often alone), I traveled on weeklong bike trips (riding the shoulders of highways and backroads), and as a daily bike commuter I disregarded many rules of the road. Now, as a father of two young children, I am less adventurous, more fearful and often saddened by thoughts of my own death. The painful thoughts that well up from the depth of my soul are accompanied by images of my children growing up without their father, my wife as a single parent and me not seeing my kids and wife live their wonderful lives. Fortunately, these thoughts and images, for me, are pre-cautionary and help me temper my former tendency for risky behavior.

    As for the hurtful behavior that might be inflicted on me or my family by the senseless and random acts of violence by others (most of which is perpetrated by other men), I, too, in the wake of recent high-profile acts of violence, have heightened concern for the well-being of many. I increasingly appreciate the fear that my parents, each expressed in their own way, as I navigated childhood and continue to navigate adulthood.

    Practicing the art of noticing these painful thoughts, experiencing the pain and discomfort (alone and often in conversation with others), and letting them go, is the most empowering response, and form of sanity, I know; combine with regular physical exercise and time in the great outdoors.

    • Wow John – that’s a mouthful. I especially appreciate your honesty about those primal feelings – my kids need my help to grow up, I need to see it happen, and I can’t leave these people who I am responsible for. I’m glad you’re more careful now! But you’re right – we can’t ever lose an adventuresome spirit, we need it more than ever. Deep stuff – and very good advice. Let it go. Best – Amy

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