A Look On The Lighter Side: A few things I know about Fear

A Look On The Lighter Side: A few things I know about Fear

There’s something contagious in the air, these days, and I’d like to offer some expert advice.

Oh, not about the coronavirus. I know nothing about that. And not about the stock market — I know even less about that. But I do know a little bit about the force that’s been turbo-charging the news about both of them.

I am speaking of fear. I have been a fearful person all my life.

In middle school, I would read about people having out-of-body experiences and worry that I might have one myself, without my knowledge. I’d lie awake worrying that somehow, my soul might be tempted to leave my body — departing through the back of my neck, as souls apparently do — so I made it a point to sleep on my back. I guess it worked.

So here are a few things I have learned about fear.

1. Once you start down its path, fear can be a bottomless spiral.

All of my adult life, I have dreaded air travel. I know I will be the one person killed in a crash that everyone else miraculously walks away from, or the one person sucked out of a broken window — from a middle seat — when the pilot lands the plane safely with everyone else.

I am panicked by every rattle and bang during a flight; but when anyone tries to reassure me — “Oh, that’s just the landing gear pulling up into the fuselage“ or “That dip? That just means we’ve started our descent” — it only makes things worse, because then I must worry about the landing gear, and the fuselage, and the angle of descent, on top of everything else.

The only thing that ever helped me was Valium, which I now make sure I have in hand before every flight. But they don’t have medication for worrying that a global pandemic will eventually reach your door. At least, I don’t think there’s anything strong enough that is legal.

2. Fear can make you stupid. And by “you,” I mean “me.”

After graduating from college, and several months of searching, I finally found an apartment in Greenwich Village. It was in a lovely neighborhood, busy and well-lit. Nevertheless, after a few years, I found myself hiring a locksmith to put two more locks on my apartment door.

“Lady, don’t get me wrong,” said the man as he drilled the holes for a second Medeco lock. “I’m happy to take your money, but you know that you don’t need to do this? It’s really a very safe neighborhood.”

I couldn’t explain it to him — or myself — until years later. That’s when I realized that I had just started dating the man who would become my husband, and I was afraid of something, all right, but it had nothing to do with the neighborhood, the locks, or the building.

I was simply afraid of this new relationship working out badly. And the only thing my fears ended up achieving was making me pay for five keys to be copied, instead of three, when my sweetie finally moved in.

Eventually, we purchased a house on Long Island. One day I noticed a crack in the living room wall that I’d never seen before. To my intense horror, it grew wider and wider as I watched! Panic-stricken, I rushed to the phone and called my husband. Something in my voice alarmed him so much that he left work early to assess the crisis for himself.

“Where is this crack?” he said. “Show me.”

“There,” I said, pointing a shaky finger at a line on one side of the mantel.

He stared at the mantel for what felt like an eternity. Finally, he turned to me and said, “I don’t think it’s a problem.”

“How can you be sure?” I yelped.

He smiled. “Because that crack is exactly the same size it was a year ago, in last year’s holiday photo of us, posing in front of the mantel!” After we both finished laughing, I realized I’d forgotten all about my fear.

Which is how I know that:

3. The most important thing about fear is that you can’t sustain it while you are laughing.

I was starting to worry a little bit about the coronavirus myself — until I realized how washing my hands for a 20 full seconds before touching my face is really going to take all the fun out of nose-picking! Now imagine trying to do that with a face mask on… impossible!

I started writing this column because I needed to look on the lighter side of life, myself, to stay sane. I just wish that staying dignified could also be part of the picture!

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