The other day, I came across an advertisement, for GEICO no less, which stated "Do you have a fear that seems a little Silly?" Writer that I am, I read that comment two ways. The first way, "Do you have a Fear that seems a little Silly?" is actually rather playful, non-judgmental. It's just posing the question and poking a little fun. But that is not the way that I read it, initially. I read it "Do you have a Fear? GIANT PAUSE That seems a little Silly." Here is where the judgement comes in, and I begin to take things apart.
First off, there are some fears that are good to have. They work for our survival. The fear of walking into a bad neighborhood on a dark night, or swimming in shark-infested waters, or drinking too much and climbing in behind the wheel. These fears cause us (the best of us, anyway) to avoid such situations. Author Gavin de Becker has recently released a book titled "The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence." Thich Naht Hanh contributes to the discussion in his book "Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting through the Storm." Fear seems to be on everyone's minds, and not just fear that we run away from but fear that we run toward as a way to grow and change.
Is fear Silly? Not to the person who is experiencing it. I speak from experience. There was a time in my life, not all that long ago, when I was riddled by Fear. I woke in the morning dreading the day ahead, afraid of what it might, or might not, bring. I was petrified when I sent the kids off the school, afraid that I might not ever see them again. I waited until they walked out the door before I melted into tears. I was scared to the point of immobilization of driving - not only on the interstate but anywhere that I had not been before. I smothered my husband with my demands, which led to the terrifying thought that he might leave me. I was afraid of so much, everything, that I felt suffocated by my anxiety.
The turning point came for me when I accompanied my sister to her home in Florida. At the end of my visit, I had to take a flight back home. The trip would be a short one - Orlando to Charlotte is just a hop. But I was convinced to my very core that the plane would crash and that I would never see my husband and children again. I had a major meltdown in the airport. But I made it on board, the flight was smooth, and I was back soon enough packing lunches and folding laundry. I knew that something had to be done, but I did not know what. I just said "Please, help me," and surrendered my difficulty to the Universe.
Shortly thereafter, I was in our public library scouring the shelves when one book stood out to me. It was Dale Carnegie's "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living." I leafed through and immediately knew it was the book for me. I checked it out, read it, and my life has never been the same. I won't say that all my fears dissipated on the spot, but with Carnegie's wise, soothing words I was able to put into effect in my life a new way of thinking. And perceiving. Spiders are no longer monsters waiting to chomp down on me, but rather lovely web-weaving insects that are sorely misunderstood. Deluges didn't signify sheer death on the road, but rather were cautionary events urging us to slow down. Rejection from publishers doesn't mean that I was a hopeless failure, simply that someone has a different point of view. Life has taken on a new lightness and a new joy that continues to this day.
Do I think all those years of being so afraid of everything were silly, a waste? Not at all. They brought me to my knees. They renewed my reliance on a power greater than myself. They humbled me. And humility is not a four-letter word; it is a gift that allows us to keep on growing.