In the Face of Fear

When I was 19, I jumped out of an airplane. So it might surprise you to hear that I’m afraid of heights.

I don’t like standing near windows in tall buildings, and when I’ve had seats in a suite for an event at the Civic Center, I stay toward the back of the box — because somehow it seems like I’m less likely to fall out if the whole box goes crashing into the crowd below. Driving on mountain roads near cliffs is…torturous. I don’t generally mind planes just because you’re so far removed from the earth, it’s kind of unreal.

Jumping out of the plane, though, that was a new level of terror. I didn’t really do my homework, so I found myself having to climb out onto a wing of the plane rather than just throwing myself out of a door. My leg barely reached the strut so it flapped in the wind while my stomach did somersaults. Eventually I managed to get out onto the wing, and my tandem instructor and I were flying in the face of every shred of common sense I ever had. I immediately curled up into a ball and started screaming!! After I saw the earth-the sky-the earth-the sky go by me a few times, I realized I was panicking and doing exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do.  Eventually I regained my composure and we tumbled toward the ground in a more orderly fashion.

I paid good money to do this… It seemed like fun at the time, but now I look back on it as a way to confront my fear head on. I still don’t like driving on mountain roads, or standing on the edge of a cliff… but I do it. I never say, “No, I can’t do that because I’m scared.”

Why, you may ask, am I telling you about this?

Well, I’ve been thinking about fear lately. Not just fear of heights, or water, or sharks, but the strange paranoia that seems to have taken over this great country of ours.

America was built by the kind of people who picked up their entire lives, got on a boat, and sailed to a completely wild and foreign place. The kinds of people who weren’t afraid to take a chance when it meant discovering something new, or building something great, or just plain bettering their lives. And now, we’re the kind of people who live in gated communities, carry guns under our coats just in case that guy we’ve never seen before is up to no good, and don’t let our kids play outside by themselves.

We’re afraid of each other, and this makes me sad…and angry.

Convincing people they need to be scared of their neighbors is good business, though. How else are you going to sell TV news advertising, shotguns, ammunition, home alarm systems, Lo-jacks, or get reelected? It used to be we could all fear the Communists. And then, for a while there, George W. Bush got us all to focus our fear on “terrorists.” Heck, even I used to watch as my boyfriend left my house and walk to his truck, convinced that terrorists might be waiting for him in my driveway.

What makes me sad, though, is that people don’t seem to be able to see through this and out to the other side where we’d all be better off if we could come together and work toward the same end. Of course, for many people that means facing up to their fears. Fear of the guy around the corner who doesn’t look like you, or the lady across town who doesn’t think like you, or all the changes that come along with the next generation… Whatever it is you’re afraid of, I think you’d do yourself a good deal of service to just throw yourself head first into the most uncomfortable situation you can think of… and get over it!

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