FEAR And worry

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look Fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'”

~Eleanor Roosevelt

Tracesso sat under the low, thatched roof of a bamboo hut on a white sand beach in the early morning. He sipped a black coffee and gazed out across the bay at some massive breaking waves. They were about two hundred meters offshore. They look reasonably sized, but he knew better.

The beach, Tanjung An, is a familiar break, and Tracesso learned that when it looks dismally flat from shore, it’s perfect to surf. When the waves look invitingly large, it’s best not to go out. But with nothing else to do all day, he grabbed his board and got wet.

Tracesso paddled out on an angry ocean. Despite the still air, the water was choppy, and seemed to discourage Tracesso with every wet slap. Waves broke and formed and broke again erratically across the bay. The water was a turbid green from the roiling energy. And an eerie shroud of mist hung over it from the foam being constantly sprayed upward.

The swell charts had predicted that chaos for weeks. Three meters high and barreling, the waves rolled in ominously silent, and then crashed with gut-tightening ferocity. Being out in that, there wasn’t room for playful recreation. All focus had to be directed toward self-preservation.

Tracesso got within 50 meters of the pounding epicenter; the mother break. But he remained cognizant of his ability. There was not a flicker of aspiration in him to steer his paltry float into the path of those behemoths.

He remembered the roar most of all. Loud, but not deafening, it emanated with a primal tone that was deeply, deeply foreboding.  That sound struck deeper than the mere defiance of formal laws, of social norms, or even motherly warnings.  It shook awake an animal instinct to flee.  Tracesso stared into the barreling section of the waves like it was a massive, turbulent maw. But never too long.

Tracesso kept a firm awareness on the rip current he knew was steadily drawing him into that thick tumult. 200 meters from the nearest point of land, there was no way to orient himself.  No way to sense his position.  On smaller days he’d been unwittingly drawn in and tumbled. He wasn’t going to let it happen that day.

Tracesso remembered the unique feeling of the ocean.  The deep oscillations in the aquatic plain on which he floated. Nothing else on Earth lifts and lowers with such extreme amplitude. Walls of water rose up to block the horizon, and with them rose in him a wretched fear of being crushed by their fall. It was only his cold intellect; his knowledge of how those beasts behaved and where they vented their pent up fury; that allowed him to skirt so close to their power.

And lastly Tracesso remembered the Fear. The Fear that rose in his gut, that jolted his body with adrenal strength, and that compelled his every action. Fear carved away the entire world leaving only the scene at hand. It cast that scene into high resolution, where every moment passed slowly and with heightened significance. And finally, Fear augmented his strength.

Fear is an old friend of Tracesso’s. He’s well adjusted to him. He knows when to ignore Fear’s frantic insistence, and when to heed Fear’s valid warnings. He’s familiar with the feeling Fear produces, and he’s become comfortable with it. Tracesso likes Fear, and that day Fear taught him something. It shouted out its true distinction.

He learned that the feeling of Fear experienced out on those waves is different to lowly, ignoble worry. People often confuse the two, and Tracesso would defend Fear against this slight.

People sometimes berate the media as being ‘Fear’ mongering. But Fear cannot be so blithely mongered. People might profess a ‘Fear’ of impending war, of global warming, of economic insecurity, or of rampant crime. They might say they fear losing their jobs, or that their spouse is cheating on them. But all these things are worries, or frets, or concerns.

The only people who Fear rogue militias, for example, are the ones being held at gunpoint by one of their soldiers. People don’t feel ‘Fear’ global warming, they feel Fear when a bus passes too close to their elbow. They feel Fear when they stand at the edge of a precipice. They feel Fear during a speech, when the judgement of a hundred others bears down on them.

Fear is not felt in the abstract. Fear is an immediate force of emotion; a compulsion that incites immediate action. Fear can be recollected in association with a thing, but not imagined or manufactured.

Fear then has been stolen by common convention and distorted into something it’s not. For those who insist on keeping the word, fine. You can have it.

But the actual effect I’m talking about, the thing that exists out in the world, is that instantaneous, visceral emotion.  And it remains distinct from the intangible imaginings of worry no matter what the Dictionary says. One occurs in the viscera, the other in the neo-cortex. It does one well to mark the difference.

The reason for that distinction is to befriend Fear, because Fear is a powerful ally.

When you conflate Fear and worry, you group it in with the contemptible version peddled by propaganda. Your outlook on Fear becomes antagonistic. It becomes stigmatized as something to be avoided and repelled, as something evil and detestable. But that is a mistaken notion.

There is great value in understanding, even in loving, Fear. A strength of mind can be reaped from dealings with Fear. Fear shows us what it is to be truly present. Fear brings the moment to bear like no calm ever can.

It also brings about a confident perspective. Fear in large doses grants the ability to more easily reconcile minor day to day Fear. And after experiencing true Fear, the whinings of worry don’t seem that difficult to cope with.

Fear can show us what we’re capable of. It fosters growth.  Fear reveals the limits of physical strength. And strength grows to meet the continued challenge of Fear.

Fear is an emotion that has remained through eons of evolution. Passed down again and again, It has guided humans since before humans were humans. It has undeniable value.  Fear kept every living person’s ancestors alive for countless generations. And we show our thanks by calling it anathema? That is shameful.

Fear even transcends species, giving humans a common sentiment through which to empathize with our fellow organisms. Worry has not, and does not.

Fear is a royal emotion, and it is unacceptably defiled in modern times.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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