Here’s the thing about fear. No one really tells you what it feels like.
They simply direct you to not allow yourself to live in it for too long, merely wheat field scarecrows pointing weakly, in a way that doesn’t really say anything useful about anything, much less a way forward.
But what they do know is that if you live in the fear, your mind will collapse on itself like a bridge rotting for years above a stream, and your spirit will slip away, sipped unnoticed from your body by a charcoal-colored cloud with an unknowable, unquenchable thirst.
In short: Fear is like an orgasm — you’ll just know it when it happens.
Trying to be fear less, you’re inherently still afraid. The real goal is to be fearless. No room for error. No room to second guess. No room to be anything but brave. How that looks to you depends on where you’re coming from, where you’ve been.
I. I married the man my soul needs on a breezy August day. It was the same day as the Chicago Air & Water Show, where civilian and military pilots flip fighter jets, defying gravity and the contents of their stomachs for fun. Their sonic booms in the air echoed the one inside my chest and sent reverberations down each limb, shaking as they held the hands to which I give my life. To promise forever isn’t as much about the other person as it is about yourself. You’re the one in control of what you do, not them. Trust requires no fear, co-pilots in a shared destiny. Marriage is stepping into something sacred, scared.
II. In Toledo, nearly 44 percent of African-Americans live in poverty. In June the city earned another disheartening statistic. That month it witnessed its 20th homicide of the year. A boy shot dead. On a playground. “You cannot separate this sort of gun violence in African-American communities from poverty, unemployment, drug use, drug sales, mass incarceration, and overpolicing,” Ohio State history professor Hasan Jeffries told The Blade newspaper in response to the story. There it was in black and white print, the plea to stop making fear and survival and people so black and white. “If I don’t recognize your humanity, it’s in part because my humanity is being denied by the larger society.”
III. Our plane ride home from the honeymoon was not so smooth. Leaving one country to come back to another in a trip that took hours and takes others a lifetime. We were flying from Mexico into Dallas and had to side-swipe the start of Hurricane Harvey. The plane nearly tipped 180 degrees to the left. Several times. I closed my eyes and imagined a coroner examining our dead stomachs, full of airplane biscuits disguised as biscotti. My new husband told me a story about how Uncle Joey from Full House is now a pilot and he did an interview once where he said planes never crash because of turbulence. “They’re just like bumps in the road.” But there is no road below us, I said. That’s what turbulence reminds us of. There’s only air below. Seat belts on, please. Remember to put your oxygen mask on first.
IV. Stories from Houston and its destroyer Harvey followed. Houston is notoriously unregulated, in what is pitched as a way to help the working class succeed in a big city and help eliminate poverty. It is the largest U.S. city to have little to no zoning laws. You can build wherever you want, whatever you want; push your fingers deep into the wet American Dream without the Government looking on like a creep. What they didn’t, couldn’t foresee was Noah’s flood made real. Their arks got trapped among all those unzoned structures. In Houston’s defense, others say, zoning probably wouldn’t have helped fend off a flood of Biblical scale. Safety only seems to be found in the sky. Safety is up in the air.
V. Depression is rage without righteousness. Fear is defiance without a supporting source of power. Power is righteousness. But, I’m afraid, I never feel one hundred percent right. Things are never black and white. Remember? A scarecrow points two ways.
VI. I have a friend with family who lives in South Korea. They aren’t scared, he reports. This kind of showboating by their northern neighbor happens too often to be scared, they reassure him. They’ve learned to find a way to survive under constant threat. I haven’t heard anything since the last nuclear test, though. I haven’t heard how they feel about death dropping down like an anchor from the blue ocean above.
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