October 28, 2009

Hyperventilating Fear

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:35 pm by lindaslongview

Keep-Calm-FrameThe latest cover of Wired (17.11) magazine shouts FEAR in bold letters (cover article is about vaccination fear) and a popular writer (Rabbi Kushner) just published his latest book, Conquering Fear, and even my favorite blogger (Seth Godin) is blogging about fear.  Seth reminds us that news inherently amplifies the emotional, flaming fear.  Seth also reminds us that we live in a choice rich world causing us to fear our own decision-making.  Purveyors of fear then are all around us, yet we must master our fears to live healthy satisfying lives.

When I was out running the morning that the news reported that the body of Somer Thompson had been found in a nearby garbage dump (7-year-old Florida girl that was abducted and murdered), my mind wandered to those tidbits.   During that moment, I was suddenly seized with fear from an old, yet vivid memory of a stranger asking me if I wanted a ride in his car when I was about 10-years-old.SomerThompson_7yrold

I remember being very frightened at the time, yet knowing that I needed to show calm.  That stranger had tricked me into talking to him by playing to my insecurity of being a tomboy – he asked, “are you a boy or a girl?”  I was indignant to the question and immediately asserted that I was a girl, quickly realizing that it was an unsafe conversation.  When he asked if I wanted to ride in his car, I told him that my mother was waiting for me because we were making cookies (yet it was only myself making cookies since my mother was at work). Following my attempt at a polite excuse, I leapt onto my bike, clutching the small bag containing the vanilla extract that I had purchased, and escaped as fast as I could the back route to home.

I’ll never know if the situation was actually benign, but I was afraid then, and the memory drove a surge of adrenaline as I ran for exercise last week. My pace and breathing quickening and the fear I felt was as real as if I had been ten again.  The fear passed quickly and I was again relieved that I was safe.  Mostly, I was surprised at the intensity at which it momentarily enveloped me.  As Rabbi Kushner notes in his book, “there is nothing that reaches us more deeply into our souls than the experience of facing danger and being spared.”  Yet we must be outraged deeply in our souls too by the unfairness and tragedy of those like Somer and her family, who were not spared.

When Robin Roberts of Good Morning America was interviewing the mother of Somer Thompson, who, like my mother was at work at the time of the incident, said to her, “You cannot blame yourself,” I deeply concurred.  She must not blame herself rather she must blame the perpetrator.  With the randomness of terror like this, Somer and her family are simply tragic victims who deserve our compassion; it could have been any of us.  My long view advice:

  • We must stay calm in the face of adversity.
  • We must not isolate ourselves and/or change our behavior because of intimidation.
  • We should be alert but not frightened, vigilant but not paranoid (Kushner, p.39)
  • We must act decisively when faced with daunting complexity based upon the information that we have.
  • We must accept the knowledge that we must make choices and not second-guess our decisions based upon the information that we had in the moment.

Being the anxious perfectionist that I am, taking this advice is hard even for me, but I desire to live in a world where I am not afraid.  Do you?