The Biggest Fear

The paperback edition of the book my heavily disguised widowed dating/remarriage experience appears in is coming out in several months and the author asked if I would be willing to complete a Proust questionnaire for the appendix. Aside from feeling honored, I always like to write about myself, experiences, and feelings.

But the first question stumped me. Rob says I am just being chicken, but I don’t think so. I really don’t know how to answer it.

What is your biggest fear?

I don’t have a bigger than another fear. I don’t think I even fear things as much as I worry incessantly and run worst case scenarios on a worn out loop in the worry corner of my mind.

I used to fear never having an opportunity to experience those milestone events that we are supposed to. Like love. Marriage. Motherhood. And then I feared failing.  At Everything. Whatever the situation or great life event – I would be a failure.

But I have had opportunities. Even back in the day when I was lamenting my lack of them, they were really there. I just didn’t see them through the haze of cultural expectations.

So once I had marriage and baby and career, I feared being outed as a fake. The discovery that I was only pretending to know what I was doing but it was all just so much smoke and strategic placement of mirrors would ruin me and sending me in search of the deepest darkest cave to live out my remaining days in shame.

And when that didn’t happen, then it was loss. I feared losing what I had. Husband and child and job and home and earthly possessions – most of which came from Target.

But at some point I looked around and realized most of the things I feared were silly or were beyond my ability to do anything other than simply live beyond them. Fear sort of subsided to worry at that point – which is a problem when it results in life halting inertia – but is actually quite manageable and survivable.

Now I just have knowledge. Not that I particularly want it. In some ways fear is better because it is a sign of innocence. My innocence is consigned to the past. Bad things have happened. Bad things will again. If the past is any indicator of my survival, I’ll deal as I have always done. Where is the fear then?

In 1995 I traveled out West with my folks to visit CB and his then wife. On the trip back we found ourselves in a tiny prop plane flying in circles over the Iowa cornfields in a vain attempt to go around a thunderstorm. At one point we hit some wicked turbulence, and the plane dropped like a dead duck. It felt like that initial stomach flop one experiences as the car heads over and down the first drop on a roller coaster. Only from much higher up. Mom was in tears and Dad had his arms around her, trying to calm her. I was in the seat across the aisle by myself, and he looked over and asked,

“Are you afraid?” which was strange because I think he knew that I wasn’t.

“It’s a little late for that,” I told him. Because it was. Fear is only useful if it keeps you out of potentially dangerous situations. We were on the plane. The storm was raging and rocking us about the dark clouds. Fear was less useful than paying attention and keeping one’s wits.

The same thing applies now. I have confronted most of the fears of my younger years at some point or another. It hasn’t cured my innate need to worry, but I don’t know that I am necessarily afraid of anything. And I wonder too. Are those things we label “fears” simply unknowns and would it make more sense to call them “worries”? Or, is fear more about our reactions than about the thing itself?

Damn you, Proust.

7 responses to “The Biggest Fear

  1. …fear is just worry in drama queen mode

    I like this, a lot. I think that expresses it precisely for me. And my fear/worry is about being “outed”, too, although I would never admit to that on a sunny day.

  2. i’m with you… fear? not really. worry? too much and on too many things. guess the closest thing to true fear i have is that my kids will go before me. and, yeah, a thoughtful exercise to be done when i’m in a calmer place. maybe with a fifth of bourbon?

  3. What was it FDR said? “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

    Remember the Bene Gesserit fear litany from Dune? “Fear is the mind killer.”

    Those who seek to control us will attempt to do so through cultivating fear in us. Be fearless and no one can control you but you.

    I said at lunch today that there is nothing that I fear. And it’s true.

    Worry? Now that’s a slightly different kettle of fish. But if you suspend belief for a moment and agree that the concepts of worry and fear are interchangeable, it might also be true that I fear:

    1) Outliving any of my children
    2) Dying before realizing the goals on a list in my mind.

    • Number 1 is fear only because I know that at some point it would become another tragedy I lived through and moved on from which would make it all the more awful, but I don’t believe that number 2, goals, are finite. They aren’t confined to one lifetime. What isn’t finished here is picked up again down the road.

      I like the idea that worry and fear are interchangeable. Perhaps fear is just worry in drama queen mode?

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