The Power of Fear

“Fear has its use, but cowardice has none.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Yesterday I was scared- repeatedly. But sometimes we need to feel as if all could be lost in order to comprehend that life is valuable. That is the power of fear.

The support for my first blog startled me. I had hoped it would read as genuine, but the responses in support of my writing surpassed my expectations and warmed my soul. The rush of claiming a domain name yesterday was also a fast high. Even though the fear of the unknown is sticky with pain, sometimes  a swift kick of gruesome reality can quickly wake us up.  As a result of a yesterday filled with security breaches, reckless drivers, and new exploits, today I discovered how fear can be “wella-useful.” See what I did there? Wellness remained my goal.

Between flickers of panic at the newness of blogging, and the extreme frustration with unreliable Internet, I am lit by the flashes of excitement that are slowly filling my half-full teacher’s heart. I have talked about publishing a blog for years, and now that I’ve pulled the trigger on its genesis, I can feel my identity returning. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but the innate call to vocation remains.

Even with deep roots in education, I don’t believe all questions are supposed to be answered. Often, I look to nature to figure out the basics of getting through tough times. For instance, think about the fear response and recovery time of a healthy dog. Obviously a dog’s brain is wired to react when it is attacked, and unless it’s been abused or conditioned in some unnatural way, once the immediate threat has passed, the canine instinct returns to “business as usual” and the fear response ends. I’ve watched my 12-year-old son, Tommy, repeatedly stumble (he’s not quite mastered those long legs yet) over our aging German Shepherd, Ivy, and sometimes, it causes her accidental pain. Seconds later, that same sweet dog can be seen stealing a kiss from him. For people? Our recovery takes longer.

1220  Few people are genuinely dauntless; I know I’m not. I’m afraid at some point every day. But I’ve come to realize that even though not everyone is built to play the fear game, participation is not optional. Fear doesn’t require our consent.

Fear also tends to fester.  If something frightened us to the core, even for a moment, the hesitancy to try again lingers. When humans are scared, pulses rise, eyes dilate, and the body becomes CHARGED. Our instinctive response gets muddied with our humanity, but the basic choice is to retreat or to advance. One difference between humans and wild animals  is how long that feeling of fear lingers in our mind and influences our actions days, months or years after our scare. Last night, Abraham was feeling “off” and had a small headache (don’t worry; he seems better today). My conditioned fear response kicked in, and I had to unknot my stomach as I rinsed supper dishes at the sink. I tried to push away the dread that he could be getting “the big sick” (as Abraham has coined his cancer). I couldn’t control the situation and make his pain go away, but I tried repeating  to myself, “His face looks flushed, I’m sure it’s just a cold.” Eventually, I was able to function again, but the paranoid residue stayed with me. It wasn’t until I turned off the tomorrow “what if’s” and focused on a night of snuggles that I was able to unwind enough to sleep. I doubt dogs with cancer worry about growing sicker. They are too focused on living and playing, and loving their human. We can learn a lot from our pets.

Don’t get me wrong, I know choosing to be brave is not just about facing fears like an animal or tackling demons like a slayer. It’s about recognizing and accepting that the alarm of distress will sound repeatedly in our world; but sometimes, that warning can be a lifesaver.

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