The Failure of Fear

In a secret wood only I know of (except, perhaps, for whatever ghosts of the Caddo tribe still roam these parts) there is a great clearing atop a hill rising well-above the surrounding treeline. It is clear for a hundred yards in every direction, save for a single lonely oak tree. From this height, you can see for what seems like hundreds of miles around. Looking even upward you have an obstructed view of the heavens that makes one feel as solitary as the first man ever born.

As often as time and opportunity permits, I like to tramp through these secret woods and climb to the top of this mystic hillock meadow. I like to stand atop the incline, and let the terror fill my soul in a gradual rise from the bottom of my feet to the upward expanse of my outreached arms. I go there when I want to feel pure fear.

Fear has little bearing in my life (that is, the common usage of the term as to mean “dread” or “alarm”). Short of those deep, cutting tragedies (such as the loss of a dear loved one) there is little to nothing about my existence which makes me anxious or scared. This is not bluster, but a sober rumination of my existential bearing. For, irrespective of what might occur in my life, “I’m good.”

It is a concoction of personality, I suspect, was forged in the fires of humiliation and isolation first experienced in my younger days. Upon being reduced to less than you are, you better appreciate the folly in making more of yourself than is true. In being rendered an outcast by the mediocrities you yourself reject, you begin to understand the arbitrary ornaments of reputation for the cheap trinkets they are.

But are these traits not some manner of eremetic avoidance? The seedlings of the bitter misanthrope, that bloom into the rotten fruits of the sociopath? Hardly. I am in love almost non-stop, with almost every soul whose existence I am brought into awareness. Indeed, I go so far as to love those few brave souls who actively seek to harm my livelihood and douse the false fires of my acclaim. This is not to say that I never resist or seek to thwart their efforts, only that I am warmed by the glower of contempt almost as much as that of loving affection.

The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters (1799) by GoyaIn the same paradoxical way, I am indifferent to the dangling anxiety of fear. It’s failure in my life stems from having too far considered the implication of almost every possible outcome.

Daily in dreaming have I died of every conceivable malady, and buried almost every friend and loved one I know. In nightly phantasms have buried one or all of my children in visions so harrowing as to leave me pacing the floorboards at odd hours, still trying to shake off the tremor of self-inflicted psychological trauma. During the slow lull of my morning commute I have considered the possibility of being fired from my vocation, of losing every material possession and rendered destitute From the secure outposts of affluent imagination, I have reduced my life to such scorched-earth shambles as to rival Job.

“What if there’s no God?” I am often asked by well-meaning skeptical friends of mine. Well, what of it? If there is no God, someday I’ll be dead and rotting in the ground. Mourned for a time by what few of my descendants remember me, and forgotten when they eventually shuffle off their own mortal coil. All my words and accomplishments will eventually disappear like a morning’s mist. Am I to fear this fate? Hardly. It’s a shot to the ol’ ego, I admit, but short of that it’s nothing worth worrying about and certainly nothing to fear. The crisis of the question only has causal implications if asked in the inverse.

So, it is through the shadowed wilds of deep woodlands I walk—well beyond the reach of shelter and civilization, to a lonely hill overlooking a broad expanse of a million distant treetops—and welcome my fear.

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