Vail Daily column: Living in fear
It dawned on me, recently crossing endless Nevada on the Loneliest Highway in a U-Haul. I’ve made a study of fear. Chances are you have, too.
I don’t mean what comes naturally from war, living in the wrong country or neighborhood or family. Nor bullying, violent crime, scary politicians, global warming, wildfires, earthquakes, pandemics, terrorism, heart attacks, plane crashes, cancer.
I don’t even mean so much the wing suit-flying, Half Dome-climbing, spelunking tight underwater tunnels variety. I’m not crazy.
I’m thinking of more pernicious stuff. The kind that steals your dreams.
I’m thinking of the fear nudging you to fit in instead of break out. Put off rather than act boldly. Stay when you know you should go. Turn silent at the time to speak up. Settle, shrink, ignore what your heart tells you, let the defining moment pass.
A species of fear holds us in jobs we hate, keeps us in bad relationships, limits us to the same old habits in the same old places. Leaves us to despise ourselves for being so … afraid.
It keeps us in line socially, worrying what others think about us. Objectively, this strikes me as ridiculous. But here we are, huddling up in our tribes, currying favor with our peeps and too often demonizing the other. Giving in to our prehistoric hardwiring.
Of course, the hardwiring is there for good reason. We evolved in packs. Caution almost always is merited. Tigers still occasionally hunt people. Hearts are reckless. Sometimes you should listen to that little voice telling you to, ahem, shut up.
I love the line “Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.” I just wish it were true.
Fear is as real as hunger and love. It’s primal. It tickles behind the knees, leaps from stomach to heart, can freeze you. You may manage it, but you don’t get to decide it away. Fear doesn’t work that way.
Ultimately, this may be a consequence of death. Well, living in anticipation of the concluding event of life, anyway. None of us escapes.
Buddhist priests and some indigenous traditions believe in holding our impermanence closely, being a breath away from the other side as we are. The Abrahamic faiths are more … complicated, between their various notions of judgment and paradise.
Meantime, how we deal with fear — discretionary and otherwise — defines us.
More than one of my superiors called me fearless as we discussed this move to The Union. Somehow I had picked up a reputation for trying new things, tolerance for risk, willingness to take on a community’s powers that be editorially and just often enough internally to get labeled something of a curmudgeon.
All of that is true enough, I suppose. Other than the fearless part. More like the opposite. I live in fear, always calculating the threats real and imagined, back of the knees and stomach and heart tingling like some sort of Geiger counter.
Even more, though, I hate the thought of fear ruling me. So I charge into it.
I’m not so much fearless as impulsive, throwing myself into situations before I can think too much about what I’m getting myself into.
And so I found myself driving the U-Haul, the usual insecurities with new jobs and people playing through. It does help if you’ve paddled these waters before. The fear at least is familiar if never comfortable.
But what pulls us through? What makes us leap when every instinct says don’t you dare? What’s the antidote?
Faith. Has to be.
Faith in ourselves, our abilities, knowledge, experience, training. Faith in God or the fates, if you prefer. Faith that the course you’ve taken is the one you were meant to take.
Faith is the bell in the fog or the dark when we’re scared to death. Faith must be the other side of the coin from fear. Each deals with the unknown, after all.
As such, they’re unreliable. You can’t trust either. Neither fear nor faith make it so.
So what to do? Which way to turn?
I tend to go with faith. Even if things turn out horribly wrong, well, it’s just part of the fuller journey, teaching what needed to be learned. A rationalization, perhaps, but a logical one. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky put it well: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
This strikes me as the best path, scary as it can be. Let your voice shake, if it must, but say what you believe must be said, do what must be done. Here’s also a serviceable definition for courage.
Don Rogers is publisher of The Union in Grass Valley, California, and former publisher and editor of the Vail Daily.