“Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.” ~ Pema Chodron, The Places that Scare You
“Courage is not living without fear. Courage is being scared to death and doing the right thing anyway.” ~ Chae Richardson
Last week we talked about fear. Everyone has their own definition. It seems obvious to point out what it is that scares us. People have all kinds of phobias: heights, spiders, snakes, public speaking, or, rarer, going outside, tornadoes, bear attacks. We learn what we are afraid of by experiencing the conditions that produce that fear. If we are bit by a spider in childhood, we perhaps learn to fear arachnids.
As adults, it is more difficult to recognize or admit when we are learning new fears or building on old ones. We new parents hold their child, they have joy but also a welling up of great terror for the safety of that child. They ask, “How can I love anyone so much? How can I do right by my baby?” With new experiences, even fantastic ones, come new fears. Inside, our writers grapple with new fears and old ones, many of the same ones they’ve always had but also new fears that are born of their new experience in the prison.
We asked our writers this week what they would do if they were free of fear. Instead of answering this prompt, most, if not all, of our writers explored fear as a concept, how it dominates their experience, and also, what scares them the most. Trying to imagine a life beyond fear was too much travel in the short time we had together.
Below, you’ll read three accounts of fear, its sources, and exploration of the experience of the feeling.
Let’s Eat Popcorn in Fear
It started last week.
We had been anticipating it
We popped some corn,
laid down our heads
and began to watch.
We were immediately
wrapped in the moment.
We both were resisting the fear
at the same time, we both sat up,
our eyes glued to the screen.
Oh my, what the? we looked at each other,
munching like it was going out of style.
They are crazy! We thought,
why is she…? No, why is he…?
Why are they…?
I’m glad I’m not watching this alone.
We were now at the edge of the bed,
scared, but couldn’t stop being intrigued.
What did you just say?
Nothing, I didn’t say nothing.
Our stomachs lurched.
Now, we thought, we’re hearing things.
That was better than we even expected.
I can’t wait until next week.
Yea, me either.
Okay then, good night,
sweet freakin’ dreams.
Yeah, angels on your pillow.
See you next week,
American Horror Story!
Courage is being scared to death and doing the right thing anyway. How do know the right thing anyway? How do I know what’s right? How do I decipher the best for someone else when I cannot even give it to myself? The one thing I can say that scares me and rattles my bones more than anything in this world is failing as a mother. TO some extent I feel I have already, not completely but in most ways. I care about his life more than my own and that is the soul motivation for my heart to keep beating. I fear that he will view me as a failure and this was all for nothing. I can’t put into words the anger I have towards myself for my absence in his life, the guilt that haunts me like demons to which no exorcism could expel them. That is no comparison to sitting in a cell longing for my baby boy. I have never viewed myself as courageous or even worth much of anything for doing this for him, just that’s what a mother does. Protect, care, nurture, and comfort the one you have created. Fear hits when I realize I have successfully failed at most things human and wonder if he will inherit my character defects…the flaws that define me. Will it ever subside, this fear? Why is it I can look death in the face and smile? Touch the flames of hell and shrug it off…but I look at my son and it incapacitates me from my heart to my bones….? You would think it would be the opposite. All I could ever ask for in this life is his happiness and a pain free existence – is that really so much to ask?! Could I sacrifice a limb or something of value to ensure the debt is paid? If fear is courage that pain is strength and guilt is the motivation to protect my baby boy from what I once was. I can feel it in my throat as it burns through my veins that it has to work – the hope is quite tangible. I can only shield him until my last breath…and then what? It is so hard to wrap my mind around this undeniable, loyal, faithful love that I have for this child. One will never understand that love until they have their own, then it can be given to no other in this way. If I have to live in fear to love you and be the best that I can be for you, well… then I will.
Fear empowers love.
What Scares Me
I used to think that the most terrifying things in life were horror movies and spiders. Both would send me running. I dealt with these fears by changing the channel and avoiding cobwebs. ON the occasion when a spider decided to sneak into my vicinity my screams called others to my aid. I have always had someone to save me from my fears.
I am still afraid of spiders but have found far greater things to be afraid of. Fears that can not be squished. Fear that I can no longer be protected from.
I am afraid, most afraid of the people I love. In this time of separation. I am afraid of being forgotten so I ask them closer, love them harder. I am afraid they will forget who I really am beyond these walls, that their lives will continue and I will cease to matter. I am also afraid of the pain I cause them when I have them bear witness to my tears.
That’s what it comes to. My biggest fear is that I am selfish and not brave enough to be selfless, to suffer silently for the ones I love so.