Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m afraid of many things. When I was young, it was the instinctive fear of the dark. All the associated phobias of monsters or killers in the night were still unformed. That came later, after watching too many Chinese television soaps. Instead, fear began undefined and nebulous. The dark was its own being that could reach out and grab me right out of my bed. Then, I was afraid of my parents. Their disappointment was always palpable when I did something wrong. These fears pursued me in the daylight at school and the darkness of my room became my shelter instead. They also became more concrete. They were the grades on my report card, the group of girls that always shared a table, and the feeling in my stomach right before a test. They multiplied by the day and I began to yearn for the day where all I ran from was the boogie man.
Fear is a gift. Without fear, a sabretooth tiger would have torn apart the last of the human species an ice age ago. We learn from what we dread the most. In fact, many of our fears are manifestations of previous wounds. Perhaps it was a bee sting or a scraped knee. Perhaps it was a particularly awkward third-grade presentation that creates a life-long aversion to public speaking. There is always something that prevents us from achieving our full potential. Even when the entire affair is forgotten, that twinge of pain casts a shadow upon our aspirations. Other fears are instilled by society. By the time high school began, I had even learned to fear my own body. There was too much fat here, not enough there. Suddenly, I started fearing the prospect of walking through life alone. It was the terror of never meeting someone that truly, intimately understood me. And so, I fretted over outfits, over parties, over a thousand little things, because now, there was a new formless fear, love, or more specifically, that I would never, ever, ever, ever find it.
FDR, of course, would come to say that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. What is often forgotten is the extension of that idea. That we should fear that fear keeps us from achieving our true potentials. That we will let fear control us our entire lives and never truly live or be ourselves. This is the fear spawned by the inevitability of death. The last and greatest despair is that we will leave nothing behind and be forgotten without a protest. Perhaps that was what I saw as I considered the dark all those years ago. But I think the worst thing that you can do in the face of fear, is refusing to acknowledge it. Fear is as legitimate and useful as any other feeling. After all, there is no love without fear. You love someone because they alleviate that fear of loneliness, because they can accept you for all your vulnerabilities. It is only when fear overwhelms everything else that it becomes something to be afraid of. Confronting fear is easier said than done. But it also the only path to a truer understanding of self.