Tag Archives: fear

The Only Thing to Fear


We thought Pearl E. Gates was pretty scary. Maybe she will make an appearance in the 2017 survey.

The only thing to fear is fear itself and our politicians.

Just in time for Halloween and Election Day, Chapman University in California, released its third annual Survey of American Fears. The survey breaks down fear into “domains.” There are 11: crime, economic, environment, government, illness and death, demographic changes, man-made disasters, natural disasters, personal fears, relationships and technology. Oh, my.

Among the top 10, “government” appears three times, including in the top spot, “Corrupt government officials.” Sadly, this is the No. 1 fear of more than 60 percent of the Americans surveyed. Greater than terrorism and not having enough money for the future, No. 2 and 3 respectively, we fear the corruption of our leaders, who have a hand in shaping many of our subsequent fears. Crime, death, and illness are predictably also in the top 10. In the domain of personal fears, reptiles claim the top spot, with more than 33 percent owning up to herpetophobia. Public speaking is No. 2, followed by deep lakes and oceans, small enclosed spaces, needles, germs, flying, blood, and animals. Amazingly, almost 10 percent of those surveyed admitted to being afraid of zombies, strangers, ghosts and clowns (In fairness, the survey was conducted in April before a rash of mysterious “clown sightings.” Fear of clowns might claim a higher spot next year.) Oddly, all of these outrank anything in the “relationship” domain. Dozens of other fears, including “technology I don’t understand,” far out-rank “significant other cheating on you,” although it is perhaps the most likely fear on the list to actually happen. Recent statistics show both men and women have cheated on their partners in about half of all relationships.

What does all this mean? Much worse than encountering Bozo in the woods on a dark night, we fear having to crawl into that small space called a voting booth to cast a vote for a politician, who we fear might be corrupt, but who somehow impresses us by having mastered one of our greatest personal discomforts, public speaking. We’ll return home — more fearful that a stalker (17 percent) might be waiting for us than an unfaithful lover — and wait for the election results, which will more than likely influence next year’s Survey of American Fears, along with a cult revival of Snakes on a Plane.


Flying into the Fourth Part

By 1:30 in the afternoon there is only a corner of sunlight warming the deck that only a few weeks ago was filled with outdoor furniture, including umbrellas to shield us from the direct sun. Today I realized that it isn’t going to get much better than this for quite a while. The shadows are falling earlier since we turned the clocks back one hour. I’m fighting the urge to go inside and hibernate, but I want to enjoy this patch of sunlight while it lasts; it’s the one spot where I can keep warm while I throw the ball to the dogs. The thought occurs to me that this is the last fall I will spend at this particular house — the house we have rented for almost two years while we renovate our forever-home in North Carolina. Bob Dylan lyrics ran through my head, “I feel a change coming on. And the fourth part of the day is already gone.”

If life is divided into fourths, according to U.S. government estimates I’m approaching the last stretch. The odd thing is that I’m moving toward it with a strong sense of urgency that I don’t fully understand. Instead of running away or bracing myself, I am initiating the big change in my life. So why do I feel a tiny flutter of fear in my gut – the kind that comes from leaving the familiar behind?

I’ve spent more than a half-century living in New Jersey, mostly in places that live up to the Garden State moniker. It’s where I got my education — formal and informal. It’s where I gave birth to and raised my sons – who all now live out of state. It’s where I fell in love, built my career and cultivated friendships. Looking back, it’s hard for me to believe that I have spent more than a half-century of my life in one state (five counties). I didn’t plan it that way; it’s just the way it happened. Now, I’m getting ready not only to change my address but also start a new business venture with only superficial ties to what I’ve done for more than 35 years. Why am I running toward something that scares me?

I confessed these feelings to a friend — one of the most Zen-like people I know — who recently quit her job to focus on the “what’s next” part. She listened intently, nodding, and nearly jumped out of her chair in agreement when I described feeling propelled by a sense of urgency that I couldn’t quite articulate. Talking through it, I realized that I was standing on the south side of mid-life, counting my accomplishments against the time remaining on the clock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI thought about the time I took my sons zip-lining over the jungle in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The last part of the canopy tour involved climbing a fire tower. I’m not fond of vertical heights, even less so when the wind is blowing. I couldn’t turn back, as there were people on the ladder behind me. Worse yet, my sons never would have let me forget it. By the time I got to the top, my knees were shaking. We were 456 feet in the air. I looked down and observed that no one would ever find me if I fell into the jungle below. I looked out over the expanse to the next platform 2,525 feet away. I could barely see it. There was only one thing to do. I hooked up my harness, curled my body into a cannon ball and zoomed. The faster I flew, the sooner I’d land. When I got to the other side, the guides had to physically stop me. “Wow!” they exclaimed. “We’ve never seen a woman fly like that.” “You’ve never seen a woman that scared,” I replied.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was younger then, but I’m stronger now. If I can bundle up my nerves to fly across a 2,525-foot cable, I can throw everything I’ve got at a new challenge 430 miles away. It’s time to get a jump-start on the fourth part. I feel a change coming on, and when it does, I’ll be waiting at the front door to greet it.