I was speaking to a friend the other day about her upcoming elective surgery. She said, “I’m scared to death!”
I thought, “Really? To death? Well it’s voluntary and it ain’t brain surgery, so…”
I may have a low tolerance for dramatic proclamations of terror. Add it to the list. The list of things of which I claim hypocrisy.
But it did get me thinking. Fear is something we all experience, some more often than others. I can’t really say I’m scared of much, except my children hurting. As a parent, our one universal fear, a fear that binds us all, is the stark dread that something awful will befall our children. I would have to say that’s the one scenario that can wake me out of a dead sleep and leave me shaking and quaking until dawn.
Plus the hot flashes, of course.
This nonchalance comes with age. I’m certain that when I was younger I was afraid of many inexplicable things, like hangers and Silly String, but these days, nothing really makes me wet my pants.
Cue the hypocrisy. I do, however, overuse the phrase “I live in fear” consistently.
And if I say this to you, it most definitely is a notion of hyperbole and excessive exaggeration. In other words, ignore me.
I may say: “I live in fear of rubber bands ever since fourth grade when Jimmy snapped them at me the two miles home from school. In the winter. While I wore nothing more than cardboard on my feet.” See what I mean?
“I live in fear of running a race and falling down.” OK, again, not fear, but more a premonition of abject humiliation. “I live in fear of my mustache hair overtaking my face.”
“I live in fear of having to do common core math.”
“I live in fear of having bingo wings (underarm chub) like Gramma Jiunta.”
“I live in fear of receiving bad news every time I get a voicemail.” I always assume someone has died.
It’s not actually fear I’m describing. It’s just plain old, garden variety anxiety.
But, I think aside from misusing that phrase in inappropriate and cinematic ways, we, as a general rule, don’t have to feel true terror every day of our lives.
The children in the confused and tangled web of Middle Eastern warfare feel terror. Those suffering at the hands of domestic violence and abuse experience terror. Prisoners of war, the plight of Somalian women and victims of crime feel terror.
Cosmetic surgery patients? No.
Whenever I imagine true, stark, hot terror, I think of all people and things pertaining to 9/11, I think of Daniel Pearl, the journalist kidnapped and murdered by Pakistani militants. Think about Steven Sotloff and James Foley, journalists who were both kidnapped in Syria and later murdered; that’s unconditional horror. What we feel during a teeth cleaning? That’s just trepidation and unease.
FDR said in his infamous speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s still an enormously timely reflection. Fear feeds off itself until we become paralyzed with it. It’s everyone’s prerogative to be afraid. But maybe we should all dial it back a notch.
Don’t be held captive by fear. Make yourself unafraid of anything or anyone. Surgery, bingo wings, war, Donald Trump — don’t imprison yourself with thoughts of perceived terror.
Unless your mustache is overtaking your face. Fear that.
Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston is a mother of three, a librarian and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life.