Being a Tennessee boy, when I first moved to New York, my biggest fear was – and in some ways still is – New York City traffic. I’ve managed to get around the City a few times now, though, and while it still leaves me tense at moments, I’m more annoyed by it than I am afraid. It’s like I up and told myself at some point, “Well, Philip, this is just something you’re gonna have to suck it up and do.” Of course, by all means, I have every reason to be terrified. In the United States last year, there were over 32,000 fatalities from motor vehicle incidents, and this year is shaping up to be much worse. But, y’know, we do it anyway. It’s a risk we’re not only willing to take; it’s kinda just understood we’re supposed to endure that risk to get where we want to go.
Lately, our culture it seems has been flooded by the claim of risks and the fears from them. Some are rational; most aren’t. But what strikes me as truly strange is the number of fears that seem to be completely disconnected from their claimed risks. That is, we’re willing to risk our lives on the roads of America or on its streets, but we’re not willing to allow in vetted refugees, mostly women and children, because of the possibility that one or two could be dangerous and slip through the complex, lengthy process? We’re willing, if not even eager, to risk the lives of our young men and women in uniform to fight and kill strangers in a strange land for the sake of “making America safe” (which it turns out is a lie we were told, as our foreign wars had the adverse effect of creating ISIL instead of stomping out the “evil-doers” of terrorism), but we aren’t willing to do anything – anything at all – to combat domestic dangers that stem largely from poverty, a lack of education, mental illness, or the ease-of-access to guns. I could get on a soapbox and stay on it here, but there’s enough of those points floating around the interwebs already, and this, to me, is about something that transcends whatever political agenda I might have.
Instead, I guess I just want to make note, just plain and simple, that we are absolutely terrified, it seems, of everything. No, really, everything. We’re scared to be honest with each other. We’re scared of our relationships and the future of them. We’re scared of not being good enough or of being forgotten or neglected or wanted. We’re scared of our job security. Or of never finding a job. We’re completely frightful of change, especially of long-held traditions that have had little, positive impact since they were started. We’re scared of not changing, which is funny, because we feel damned if we do, damned if we don’t. We’re scared of what we know and what we don’t know and even of what we don’t know we don’t know. We’re scared of people who look different from us and the ways our power dynamics seem to be shifting as our society grows more multicultural, and we’re scared to admit that’s the root cause of our anger. We’re even too scared to admit that to ourselves. We’re scared to admit anything to ourselves – let alone anybody else, especially if its authentic or too real. We are riddled with fear, you see. Absolutely consumed by it. Oh sure, we might have a moment of clarity here and there, but the manner in which fear absorbs its way into our every day, into the nooks and crannies of even the most mundane thing? Is it any surprise we’re terrified of Syrian children? We’re scared to death of ourselves!
I practice (or try) to hold myself to something greater, to what I call God, that “intuition of the universe,” that “Ground of Being,” because I believe fear doesn’t get the final say. And aligning myself to faith instead of fear is the only way I’ve ever known how to combat what actually does terrify me. It is not an easy practice, and I call it a “practice,” because I am afraid and can only really confront those fears by constantly claiming out loud what they are, chaining and imprisoning them in honesty rather than allowing them to chain me. I am not always successful at this endeavor. But I believe in it enough that when I see, in social media, all the ways in which we’ve allowed fear to tell not just our stories as individuals but our collective story as a society, I am immensely sad more than I am fearful. Sad because I’ve experienced personally what it is to order your life in a way that says, “This is just something you’re gonna have to suck it up and do” without letting fear guide whether or not it should be done, without even letting fear be part of the conversation. How, I wonder, might that change, well, everything we choose for ourselves or for our society?