A little or manageable fear is a good thing. However, when it becomes anxiety, a condition in which fear is unrelieved or unrelenting, then we are dealing with a grave sickness.
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge depicts a man suffering from anxiety: “Like one that on a lonesome road/ Doth walk in fear and dread/ And having once turned round, walks on/ And turns no more his head/ Because he knows a frightful fiend/ Doth close behind him tread.”
Consider just a few of the threats that are aimed at our existence today. How can one escape the daily reminder that an enemy may be preparing the ultimate weapon to annihilate us? We bolster our courage with a rational assurance that nobody would dare set off the fireworks of human extinction. Yet, who can really be free of the lurking suspicion that at any moment the seemingly impossible will happen? This makes for more than normal fear. It slowly conditions us to a persistent anxiety.
Fear is often accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. So that whenever there is an airplane accident with significant loss of life, thousands of people who had planned to fly decide instead to drive, despite the fact that the chances of being in a serious automobile accident are far higher than the chances of being in a plane crash.
Why do they do this? Because when you are a passenger in an airplane, you are close to helpless in an emergency. You have virtually no control over what happens. But in your own car, you can have a sense, however illusory, of being in control.
I was just a boy in 1933, when I listened to president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address. Eager to buttress the spirit of the American people, he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His fellow citizens responded with a new spirit of courage and confidence.
What about our understandable fear of death? Despite Dylan Thomas’ poem, And Death Shall Have No Dominion, death does have dominion. We age, our bones wither, we die. As Ernest Hemingway put it in his terse manner – “All stories end in death.”
Robert Burns wrote about a friend, “If there’s another world, he lives in bliss. If there is none, he made the best of this.” What more can one ask of the cosmos, which is blind to enquiry and yields no answers.
An eastern European chassidic sage who lived toward the end of the 18th century instructed his followers in this way, “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and for those who must cross it, the most important thing is not to be afraid.
“We who cross that bridge every day of our lives – with a yawning chasm below – must learn to do it without fear.”
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I have been a contributor to The CJN for 50 years. Now, after several hundred articles, I reluctantly set aside my pen. I hope that The CJN will be granted a new lease on life. A precious gift has been granted us. We must not forsake it.