“The boys spent the first hours of moonlight scaring themselves silly by running as far into the woods as they could muster and then tearing into the open field again, breathless.
‘The scary thing about the woods at night,’ Fish said, panting, ‘is that you just can’t see.’”
-Andrew J. Graff, from Raft of Stars
And if being blind in the woods weren’t scary enough, I awoke to an iPhone that wouldn’t talk, ding or ring no matter how many times with how many fingers I tapped it. Somebody speak to me! I turned on NPR. I am a sustaining member of NPR. Yet I can listen to only twenty minutes before reports of a world going mad make me shiver. I sustain NPR for what it does but I’m scared silly of what it says.
“The boy’s grandfather told him that he had two wolves fighting inside him. One was gray and the other black. The gray one wanted his grandfather to be courageous, patient and kind. The black wolf wanted his grandfather to be fearful and cruel. The boy was upset at this and asked his grandfather which of the wolves would win.
‘The one I feed,’ replied his grandfather.”
-Louise Penny, from The Beautiful Mystery
Polls show that what Americans fear most are blindness and death—blindness or death for ourselves or being left behind by the death of someone dear. “Death is something many of us are uncomfortable thinking about,” says Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. “But to die is to be human. And anything human is mentionable. Anything mentionable is manageable.” That’s why I’m mentioning blindness—because blindness is part of me being human. And fear is part of we being human. Don’t think so? “Fear was the quality the song most required,” said Elvis Costello, of “Green Shirt,” from the album originally titled, Emotional Fascism.
“How hard was it for you to put your faith in your guide dog?”
-query from a third-grade boy, circa 2006
Having established what is mentionable, is whatever it is manageable? When I traded my white cane for a Seeing Eye dog, I traded fear that my cane would miss a parking meter for fear that my dog would walk me into a lamppost. Neither fear became concrete and, gradually, fear has subsided to a more or less manageable level. But progress has been a leap of faith because the gospel of eyesight is virtually intractable—so much so that, as it yields, second-guessing becomes second nature. (Is it safe to cross this street? Are you sure?)
“You better listen everybody ‘cuz I’m gonna make it clear—
That my life is unimportant; what I’ve done I did through fear.”
-“Crucifiction Lane” by Procol Harum (words by Keith Reid)
Fear is instinctual, a survival mechanism to defend life and limb. (Will that growling dog bite me?) Fear is a powerful motivator. (Get away from that growling dog!) Character defects augment instincts. Perfectionism is the fear of making a mistake—a cruel mistress indeed. Self-centered fear, that we’ll lose what we have or won’t get what we want, runs silent and deep. If we mobilize for a fight, we find that behind rage, judgment and intolerance lies fear. Not to mention worry, which I just did. So, before we reach the point of crying, “If we could see the future, we’d never get out of bed” (Meryl Streep as Violet in August, Osage County), let’s get this ship back on course.
“Hoarding your joys and despairs
as if they were clothes you bought but never wore.
Look at this bright shirt:
A possibility you glimpsed
but feared to seize.
The beloved is waiting.
You have a date.
Put on that shirt before it fades.”
-“Hoarding Your Joys and Despairs” by Gregory Orr, from How Beautiful the Beloved
“I may be dead tomorrow, but I’m alive now. And I can live deliberately. I’ve paid the price, I’ve done the work and I have nothing to be ashamed of. And when the event, the big change in your life, is simply an insight, isn’t that a strange thing? That absolutely nothing changes, except that you see things differently and you’re less fearful and less anxious, and generally stronger as a result. Isn’t it amazing that a completely invisible thing in your head can feel realer than anything you’ve experienced before? You see things more clearly, and you know that you’re seeing them more clearly. And it comes to you that this is what it means to love life. This is all that anybody who talks seriously about God is ever talking about. Moments like this.”
-Jonathan Franzen, from The Corrections
The debate rages whether you act your way into right thinking or think your way into right actions. Put on that bright shirt or receive insight? Either way, it’s your choice which wolf you feed. And whether it takes a burning bush, random acts of kindness, being scared silly, running for City Council, getting out of yourself, hiking a trail, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” whistling “High Hopes,” getting up and dancing, falling in love or adopting a pet, something’s gotta give. Hope makes the difference between fear and despair. And, if you need a road map to detour around fear, here’s your GPS.
She Let Go – a poem by Ernest Holmes
“She let go.
Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of fear.
She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.
She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.
Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice.
She didn’t read a book on how to let go.
She didn’t search the scriptures.
She just let go.
She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it.
She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.
She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t do a Five-Step Spiritual Mind Treatment.
She didn’t call the Prayer Line.
She didn’t utter one word.
She just let go.
No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort.
There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.”
-“She Let Go,” a poem by Ernest Holmes
“I’ll Never Give It Up” by Richard Thompson, from the album Sweet Warrior (2007)
“Keep It Down” by Jack Bruce, from the album Out of the Storm (1974)
“Twilight” by U2, from the album Boy (1980)
“I’m Getting Better (And I’m Feeling It Right Now)” by The Record Company, from the album All of This Life (2018)
“Just Smoke” by Mumford & Sons, from the album Wilder Mind (2015)
“Fires (Which Burn Brightly)” by Procol Harum, from the album Grand Hotel (1973)
“Beware of Darkness” by George Harrison, then Leon Russell, with both singing on The Concert for Bangladesh album version (1971)
“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” from the Disney cartoon Three Little Pigs (1933); covered by LL Cool J (1991)
“No More Fear of Flying” by Gary Brooker, from the album No More Fear of Flying (1979)
“Fearless” by Pink Floyd, from the album Meddle (1970)