The fear factor

Published October 31, 2020, 6:30 PM

by AA Patawaran

A dark shot of the full moon spreading light behind the clouds during nighttime


The worst thing, the only sickness there is whose prevention is the cureall for all human frailty. Let me take it back, allow me to explore this from the heart, plunging in fearless abandon into a stream of consciousness, from which I wish I could emerge a little less afraid.

What about the paranoid, those genetically predisposed to fearing everything there is, including their own shadow, those who’ve had trauma from which, despite their personal resolve, they cannot seem to recover, whose hormones have gone haywire? What about those whose experience has instilled into their brains that trust, a form of fearlessness, a kind of white flag to the forces of the universe, cannot be freely given. Are they justified in their fear?

No, they’re not, no one is because if it’s a problem, there must be a solution. If there is no solution, then it is not a problem, it is the way things are and you must accept it the way you have accepted that night follows day, every day, no matter how bright or long the day is. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, seek professional help, pop a pill, meditate, pray harder. Do not let your condition (or your circumstances) dictate the kind of person you are, the kind of life you live.

FEAR AND SUFFERING Paulo Coelho in front of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

To cower in fear does not diminish or vanquish it, let alone conquer it. Fear is a useless emotion, unless you use it wisely, to escape dire consequences. Only ostriches bury their heads in the sand, but then they really don’t, they only appear to do so when they dig in using their heads to turn their eggs in it. It’s just so unfair! The burying of the ostrich’s head in the sand should not have been an idiom of fear, but an idiom of love, the caring nature of a mother’s instinct.

But fear is real, as much an instinct as the instinct of flight (or fight). And fear is everywhere. It follows you up or down or across the road. It’s on every step of the staircase, whether you are going upward or downward. It lurks in the dark corners and it’s in the ultraviolet rays of the sun—UVA, whose A is for aging, UVB, whose B is for burning. It is in the face of every stranger or in the face of every loved one whose love you suspect to be vanishing. Fear ticks like the second hand of the clock because it resides in every second that makes up our minutes that make up our hours that make up the days of our lives, our march from birth to death.

Indeed, there is no such thing as fearless, which is not the same as brave. And who better to know this than Nelson Mandela, who said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”?

GET OUT Fear is the desire to escape

I’m sorry to bring you down from the loftiness of the courage it took Mandela to fight apartheid in South Africa to fears most mundane. But something as insignificant as the increasing number of fallen hair that collects around the drain in the shower can be as debilitating as the fear of death. Come to think of it, everything comes down to the fear of death, the fear that, despite all the promise of our birth, life might have reduced us to insignificance, which can be worse than death, the kind of life in which we might wish for death.

Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams…

—Paulo Coelho

Doesn’t it make you afraid that on days you feel vulnerable, less invincible, you glimpse what you have become in the mirror and you see not yourself but all the signs that your battle with gravity, your battle with time is nearing its end, and you will inevitably be the loser? Where has all the time gone? Why are your knees weaker? Why is your hair turning gray? Death, no matter how many decades away, approaches. Fear is its advance party.

THE BRAVE PRESIDENT South African anti-apartheid, political leader, and philanthropist Nelson Mandela

Fear, to me, not hate, is the opposite of love. Hate is only a variant of fear, or an outcome, like worry, like envy, like prejudice. What causes you to be greedy? The fear of lack and limitation. What causes you to be jealous? The fear that others are loved more than you are. What causes you to be paranoid? The fear that the world is out to get you. What makes you vengeful or dispassionate or selfish or overbearing or controlling? The fear of others’ attention or the lack and inadequacy of it. What is a despot but one who disguises all his fears in the subjugation of others?

All fear is a desire to escape what is or what may be that is not in line with our illusions of perfection and immortality, especially when we do not have what it takes to suffer in pursuit of these impossible dreams. As a result, we become bitter, resentful, or suspicious. Our fear turns to hate or apathy or a resignation, a weakness, all energy wasted on blaming God, our parents, our country, our employers, our neighbors, or our friends for what we fear.

I guess none of us are fearless, but some of us are brave. And it’s really not that hard, when you think about it, to rise above our fears, as long as we do something about them. There is no worse fear than that of being helpless, but some things cannot be helped, like when you’re in bed and you are sick and there is no cure to your sickness. What to do? You can write. You can read. You can talk to your near and dear. Or you can pray, not for absolution, but in gratitude that there is still some life left for you to put everything in order. 

Even in the darkest of nights, there is a bit of light and that light is enough to bring you courage, if only you banish all fear that you and your life are not wonderful enough.