for release Friday July 15, 2005
by Melodie Davis
The Only Thing You Have to Fear
What things were you afraid of as a child?
My two biggest fears, and they bordered on paranoia, came from stories told to me by my sisters, cousins and family friends. One of my sisters brought a comic-type book home from school talking about “stranger danger” and kidnappers. That’s a very legitimate fear of course, but I can still remember the horrible terror that struck me and how my heart raced every time a car passed me as I walked the country road to my neighbor’s house.
The other was a similar fear spawned by a cousin’s spooky story of someone whose legs were cut off when they kneeled to pray at their bed at night (an old urban legend). For years I would make the rounds of all the rooms upstairs at our home where we children had our bedrooms, check the closets for strangers, and then dash quickly into my own bed so as not to give anyone a chance to chop my legs off. If I happened to go to bed without looking in my closet or under my bed, I would get up and do it, or I knew I would never settle down. It became a compulsion.
What things do you fear now, as an adult? One of the most divisive factors in our society is fear. Of course there are many, many legitimate forces driving us to fear, not the least of which is that now infamous date, Sept. 11, 2001. We can all remember the fear and near panic we felt as the news spread.
It is legitimate to worry and be smart about things like personal safety, keeping appropriate boundaries, and even wise planning for one’s future. Fear is a useful emotion that can keep us alert to danger, and out of dark alleys.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, of course, was the one who coined the line in his first inaugural address, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” More than just the catch phrase it now is, coming out of his personal background of confronting life in a wheelchair after paralysis from polio, he knew the temptation of succumbing to a life defined by illness and frailty, or driving himself to succeed in spite of his physical situation. He also knew the disaster of a sick economy worsening rapidly by fearful investors who pulled their money out of banks and prompted a world-wide depression.
So what is divisive about fear, and why did Roosevelt say it was the main thing we had to fear? Fear becomes divisive when we let it come between us and other people. It builds walls, instead of creating bridges. Since I’ve cited the strengths of a Democratic president of the U.S., let me be non-partisan by highlighting what I consider to be a real strength and gift of the Ronald Reagan presidency, that of reaching out to become a personal friend with his former sworn enemy of the “Evil Empire,” Mikhail Gorbachev, insisting on meeting privately with him. What followed, over a period of years, is history. Reagan could have remained locked in his fears but he shows us the key to thawing relationships in any situation—trying to get to know other people on a personal level.
Too many voices fear boogeyman under every bed, straw women behind every corner (or cause). Of course you have to be smart about who you become friends with; you have to be wise, careful, and go into any relationship with your eyes fully open. But there are many gains to be made towards greater safety and security for all when we try to build bridges instead of walls, make friends instead of enemies, or at least agree to disagree with those with whom we cannot agree.
Ultimate freedom from fear comes as we have complete peace and security about what happens to us in the next life. I don’t mean that in a kamikaze sense, (attaining heaven by martyrdom). But ultimately, as a Christian, I don’t have to fear what others may do to me—to my physical body—if I know ultimately that my home is not here on earth, but in heaven with God, and if I am working diligently to spread that good news.
The Bible reminds us again and again not to fear; one of my favorite verses reminds us, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). Love helps us not to fear, whether it is befriending the Muslim neighbor, the Hispanic child at school, or the “redneck” with whom you seem to have little in common.
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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