They say there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I agree. I also think it’s worth acknowledging that in real, grown-up, adult life… seriously scary shit happens. I would venture to say that the majority of what we fear in life is not the actual scary shit though…
Three years ago, a 26-year-old colleague and friend with an inclusive and infectious laugh, and huge beautiful blue eyes, didn’t wake up one Tuesday morning in February. Her funeral was on Valentine’s Day and her husband, who was her high school sweetheart, bought her roses for the last time and buried them with his love. Death parted them much sooner than any young couple ever considers when walking down the aisle and taking those vows.
I’m embarrassed when I am honest about how many Valentine’s Days prior to that one I’d spent, like a lot of other women, succumbing to the cultivation of the expectation of unnecessarily grand gestures on this day. Usually leaving me unnecessarily disappointed. Fearing, and typically realizing, disappointment on the same day, in some form, year after year.
This past summer my older sister gave birth to her second child. She and my brother-in-law already have one child, and like many young families, they decided to expand theirs and make her a big sister. The day they found out they were expecting a boy, they were also told he had a very serious heart defect. Every day for the rest of her pregnancy my sister walked around knowing she was carrying a child with a low chance of survival and a long road ahead of him. My nephew passed away after eight hard fought days leaving my sister to return home to an empty blue nursery with a heartbreakingly tiny casket.
At the time I was living alone in a house much bigger than I needed. I had four empty bedrooms and rarely ventured to the second floor. Scared of empty rooms that no amount of furniture or redecorating could ever fill. Afraid that the seemingly endless days of coming home to myself, my thoughts and my perceived failures was the punishment I deserved for my imperfections.
That same summer, I attended a funeral full of uplifting gospel music about joy, faith and love. Planned by the man it was for, it took place shortly after his 30th birthday. Some chest pain after a pick-up basketball game less then two years prior led to the discovery of cancer. His wife was early in the pregnancy of their second baby together, and although he fought as hard as he could, there are two little girls who will grow up flashing the same smile as a father they didn’t get to know. His young wife and their tiny daughters stood at his casket and comforted everyone else.
I spent so much of that year angry, afraid and feeling sorry for myself. Working constantly, I stressed about contracts and quotas and quarters. The quality of my life was quantifiable to me at the time because I got it into my head that dollars would bring the change I needed. I didn’t realize how mindlessly I was capable of passionately throwing myself into everything I was doing just to fulfill the need to throw something at the discomfort I was feeling and fearing.
The primary function of fear is to aid survival. In tougher times this translated to an instinctual avoidance of physical pain. As humans we are wired to fight or take flight to stay alive. But sometimes we don’t stay alive. And sometimes fear becomes so powerful it’s immobilizing. Or insanely circular. As a true lover of technology I can appreciate the purpose of an application that does not offer seamless integration with the platforms we use to communicate today. I can also identify when it’s time to move on to one that has emerged as more intuitive technology in the context of what we need to survice and thrive today.
Examining the petty, prevalent anxieties I have battled at different points in my life through this lens revealed them to be frivolous, self-absorbed and self-indulgent.
Fear is to be feared when it becomes an omni-present and dominating force in our lives , unanswered by hope or faith of any kind, in any thing. When it keeps us in one place, in one time, prevents us from stretching out and growing. Of viewing something from many different angles over time, it is a threat to our survival.
I now live so close to the Brooklyn Bridge that I can walk across it from the 9/11 Memorial and it will take me home. I did not live in New York City on the morning that people peered across this very Bridge into the City to see the Towers coming down. I cannot even fathom what that must’ve looked like from where I stand now. Probably the end of the world.
And yet, New Yorkers still ride the train to work, still sell meat on the street, still take elevators to offices in skyscrapers. Because one unexpected and really bad day, one extremely horific tragedy will change you but
it doesn’t mean we should live our daily lives as if every day is a tragedy.
Among other places, I draw (with gratitude and humility) from the resiliency and honesty of the people of New York City for the continued encouragement needed to reject living life in the confines of fear.