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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fear shows us who matters...

“The happiest people I have known have been those who gave themselves no concern about their own souls, but did their uttermost to mitigate the miseries of others.”
—Elizabeth Cady Stanton

It was a dark and ominous walk. My friend Pat and I, neighbors at the time, walked side by side home after an evening movie at our local cinema. The night made more ominous by the fact that the movie we had just watched was The Ring. There is nothing more particularly scary than the demon-like antics of a small female child who hides her hideously dead face behind ratty jet-black hair. Needless to say, we were, well, pretty scared on our walk home—though neither of us openly showed it.

We avoided conversation about the movie as that would only increase the inner anxiety of having to walk home in the dark after watching a movie that freaked us both out. At one point along our long trek home we came to a park that we would always cut through because it literally cut the distance we would have to walk in half. The one problem at night, though, was that it had no lights. It was not a welcoming sight. We both paused before the black veil of darkness that lay before us. Then, without words, we both entered into the menacing heaviness of complete darkness. We talked about nothing just to remind each other that we were together—present and okay.

At one point I could see by the pale moonlight a small bridge over an even smaller creek coming up before us. I had the eerie feeling of being watched. I had that goose-bump feeling that, in all this darkness that enshrouded us, we were not alone. Because of this nagging fear I began to say something like, “I’m really glad I have my knife with me.”

Pat, who was clearly caught off guard by this sort of random interjection, said, “What in the world are you talking about?”

“My knife, I’m really glad that I brought it with me. Just in case, you know?” I said.

Again, totally confused, Pat responded, “You didn’t bring a knife, what are you talking about?”

At that point I was a little irritated that he did not pick up on the not-so-subtle hints of the intonation in my voice. We just stepped onto the bridge and I started to say something like, “Dude, I was saying that because I thought…”

And before I could finish my sentence, before I could tell him the truth about my fear, everything beneath us began to quake. A huge and ungodly noise erupted under our feet. It sounded as if some monstrous leviathan sprung out from the water below us. Then there was the scream, that high-pitched, bone-chilling scream that riveted my skull and at the time I knew not from whence it came. Though in retrospect, I think it was actually Pat who was screaming so inhumanly in my ear. It was a fight or flight situation and we both took flight.

We ran with total disregard for each other, Pat could have been dead on the bridge with some swamp monster devouring his insides and salvaging his femur for a weapon to employ on future victims. I knew and cared only about my own safety in that moment. And, as it turned out, Pat was doing the same thing. We still to this day do not have any idea what it was that we ran from.

It is a funny story for us both to reflect on, but it is also a hard reality for me to face. The reality that I am— in moments of crisis where fear is at its pinnacle—wholly selfish. It is a bitter truth to face. I do not want to be a person who, when crisis is averted, looks back at the scattered wake of tragedy and sees the hopeless mess of those who never knew what was to be helped.

Someone once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that
something else is more important than fear.”

That’s one thing I pray for. That even in the small things, here and now, I’ll learn to sacrifice myself. I want to learn to live without regard for my own selfish wants, so that in moments much larger and in crises more pressing, where fear threatens to consume me and beckons me to abandon my neighbors, others may flee, but as for me, no, I’ll stay, I’ll fight.