Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself?

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bombers, were afraid of something. They hated something. It’s clear that fear is the absence of love. They felt backed into a corner. They must have felt their options were few to have made such a vile choice. The same can be said of Lanza (Newtown), Holmes (Colorado movie theater), and all such overreactions—even if the fear is delusional or fabricated by mental illness. We all experience fear and often overreact. But is it true, as FDR said in his first inaugural address, that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?” What options do we have when cornered by fear? The answer will scare you.

There’s so much to fear in America—terrorism, crime, the economy, the future, climate change, seclusion, etc. Many of us find ourselves backed into a corner; we feel threatened and are poised to come out fighting if necessary. These acts of fear are so senseless: thousands of Americans mourn their lost loved ones; survivors are scarred for life, often maimed, and for what? We are reminded of how vulnerable we are every time we leave the house, how easy it is to hurt each other. Every backpack we see in a grocery store or at a sporting event could be a bomb. Additionally, the faltering economy scares us. We wonder if we will ever recover “the land of opportunity.” Personal financial struggles back us into a corner. Those feelings of not knowing if we can pay our bills, not knowing where the money’s going to come from, are thoughts that are always in the back our minds, grinding into our joy and peace and patience. The Internet has us scared. Conspiracy theories seem to be everywhere; they play on our emotions. Media profits off of our fear. Ultimately we fear the unknown, and the greatest unknown is death.

No matter how confident we are in our beliefs, a heightened curiosity will surge upon us in those few seconds before we know we’re going to die. The time has come, the ultimate moment of all moments. All mysteries will be unveiled in the next few seconds. In those moments we will find absolutely no comfort in all the reassuring thoughts we’ve clung to throughout our lives (i.e. I have the right religion; millions of people agree with me; I read Heaven Is for Real; I’ve been a good person; I believe in reincarnation). So whether we know it or not, admit it or not, the underlying haunting fear we all carry around in our subconscious is the fear of death. Look at how intensely the energy recently flared around protecting the Second Amendment. “Don’t take away my only protection!” People distrust their government and thus insist on maintaining a militia. The NRA is so powerful that the government fears them. Suspicion and paranoia consume our logic and we’re off to battle. Backed into a corner, we panic and strike out, which always results in counter-strikes, and on and on it goes. I think getting over fear, starting with the fear of death and working backward, opens us up to eventually embrace reality. But it’s a long, brave trek from hatred to love. We have to believe it is possible to love the unknown, to embrace pain and suffering, and even die unafraid. How is this possible? Consider how much trust that will require. But what do we trust? I say: REALITY—things really are what they seem; people, deep down, all want the same things. And we go there together.

Practically, I’m talking about loving humanity and the world in all our ugliness, absurdity and flaws (which are universal). This begins with loving one’s self and one’s circumstances. A holistic love for what is temporarily muffles the voices of fear long enough to take a breath, detach from future/past expectations/regrets and be. We look around and see that we are in a mortal body and that this body is what it is (resist the temptation to use adjectives; even good ones are judgments). We are in a place and that place is what it is, in a country, in employment (or not), in relationships, etc. acknowledging that everything is what it is, at least at this moment, releasing any desires that things be different. I realize it is asking a lot, but what choice do we have? Sure, we do what we can to avoid pain and suffering; I’m not talking about passivity. But not all pain and suffering is avoidable. If we can learn to love the form the moment is taking, even the most difficult things, before we know it, we’ll have no fears. Imagine if we were able to calm down, come out of our corners, and rejoin reality, which is honestly just one phase of crisis after another, I think we’ll be amazed at how much larger we’ll live.

The greatest hearts and minds of all time, including Jesus, teach that the only way for humanity to deal honestly with the challenges of this life is by everyone seeing themselves as connected and responsible for everyone else. Anything less is missing the point and abides in cold, soulless individualism. There is plenty of money and resources for everyone on the planet to have food and shelter. The only thing that prevents us from creating a world that works for everyone (even those who can’t work) is making choices out of fear and immaturity. We have not fully understood that we humans are never happier than when we are denying ourselves and serving others. We exchange our fear-driven love of money and comfort and our immature obsession with sparkly toys and fantasies for a love of what is real and we join the human race. Our needs are real and immediate and unending. This scares us and holds us accountable. Hence, we hide from it. We censor out the ugly realities of life so we don’t see them. We pretend they don’t exist. Our trash is hauled out of sight and thus out of our consciousness. We even make our excrement disappear. We have created a virtual fantasy life. But the truth is, it’s all there waiting for us to steward it.

“The earth groans and waits for the children of God to be revealed.” There’s nothing to be afraid of, our brokenness is our beauty, our need for one another is our salvation, and our challenge is our overcoming.


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