“If you are living in fear, then you are already dead. –Unknown
F.E.A.R.: False Evidence Appearing Real. –Mom
I have a great porch. It starts on the south side at the front door, wraps around the length of the house on the east side, and continues around the back on the north side. There are two sliding doors, one on the east, and one on the back. We spend a lot of time on our porch, mostly the front and back. My Mark-of-all-trades husband built it along with the house, and it seems to be our favorite shared space.
The side porch is the longest but seems to be the least used. The side door remains locked at this point, because we have plants in front of it inside. However, I realize we didn’t use it much when there were no plants there, either.
It’s a shame, really. It is such a beautiful doorway, and it leads to a set of steps surrounded by full and verdant bushes.
The greater shame is this: I avoided those outside steps that led off the porch into the grass for many years. All because I was afraid.
Afraid of steps? You may be wondering.
No, not the steps. I was afraid of the snake that slithered under those steps several years ago.
Yes, several years ago. I know in my rational mind he (she?) is no longer there, but still, I remain scared. So, I continued to avoid those welcoming, beautiful steps.
Several months ago, probably while I was enjoying a 100-plus degree day in the blessed Kansas summer heat, I stopped in the east yard and looked at those steps. I looked long and hard at those steps. I asked myself this:
“Kathleen, do you really want to keep going with this silly fear of a long-gone snake? Or perhaps, would you rather simply and safely enjoy this naturally beautiful space outside your home?”
I decided at that moment that I was done being afraid of the silly snake. The snake that was probably dead long ago, and probably wouldn’t have hurt me in the first place.
I realized, like so many of my fears—and likely most anyone’s fears—that there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place. It was all in my mind.
One of my favorite pages from Mom’s favorite calendar.
My friend Tracy has a gift with people, especially people who are struggling. She once worked in a facility for people with head injuries, which is something I am familiar with from my work, too. She told the story of the male client who repeatedly pointed to his forehead, stating: “I’ve got fears and anxieties right here.”
I have them there, too. I’m guessing most of us do. The key is to harness them, and not let them rule our lives in our efforts to conquer them.
Ophidiophobia: fear of snakes is #2 on an online list I researched. Apparently, I’m not that unusual.
Among the top ten are these common phobias:
Arachnophobia: fear of spiders is #1. I am recalling the 70’s song with the lyrics “I don’t like spiders and snakes, but that ain’t what it takes to love me…”
Acrophobia: fear of heights. I don’t suffer from this, but you would think I would, because I suffer from: aerophobia: fear of flying. I do it with the help of prescription drugs. More on that in a bit.
Here’s a few more common fears to round out the top 10:
Claustrophobia: fear of small spaces like elevators, closets or other small spaces.
Agoraphobia: fear of open or crowded spaces.
Glossophobia: fear of public speaking
It is easy to mock someone else’s fears, because they may seem senseless. None of us, however, know the whole story. We rarely have all the facts that would allow us to understand why a person fears what they fear.
Even with the facts, there may be no answer. Take my fear of flying, for example. For years, I simply got on an airplane and flew. It never bothered me. I even had children and took the last baby with me on a flight when he was nine months old. Not scared.
Somehow, some way, I became scared to fly. Even though I know it is the safest mode of travel. Even though I know I stand a greater chance of being in a car accident on the way to the airport. Given what has happened in my family, you would think I would be afraid of automobile travel, but I’m not. Our brother Captain David reminds me of the statistics, the safety precautions, the Bernoulli Principle that helps to hold it up. The same Bernoulli Principle I studied in college as it relates to air rushing through the vocal cords to create the human voice.
I get it. I understand it. I know in my brain, in my heart and soul that I am safe. I put my son on an airplane to India this summer and didn’t fear the flight, just the distance away in a foreign country. I remind myself of the statistics. I look around to see that no one else appears to be worried. I breathe deeply. I squeeze the hand of the person next to me whether I know them or not. I take the drugs my doctor so kindly gave me.
And I always arrive safely. So does Captain David, and he does it multiple times every workday. So do the millions of people who are in the air every day of every month of every year.
Suzanne used to fear flying. She no longer does. She said she simply got over it by doing it enough times, and now she is desensitized.
Like I still do, Suzanne used to worry that she was dying—as in, of a disease, and sooner, rather than later. She said a little advice and a little cancer cured her of that fear. She fought it and won, and now she knows her own strength.
Before she lived in my small city, she lived in the same small town with our parents. She had a small town doctor with an assistant who, when she expressed her recurring fear of deathly illness, asked her this pointed question: “Do you have faith in God?” She was a bit offended initially by his boldness, but quickly responded: “Yes.” He replied: “Then why are you so worried?”
She hasn’t worried since.
Suzanne and I must have inherited that fear from Mom, because she, too, expressed the same fears to Suzanne. Until, Suzanne said, one day she reported that she simply decided that if illness was going to come and get her, then bring it on. She’d had enough of worrying about it.
And she stopped worrying about dying of a dreadful disease. And she lived on without illness. Then she died healthy. Fat lot of good all that worrying did for her.
I still worry. I still have those “fears and anxieties right here,” as Tracy’s client did. If I were to leave health care tomorrow as a profession, I’m already ruined. I’ve seen enough sickness, disease, injury and illness to stick with me forever. Enough to know that weird things happen to the human body. Enough to know that they can happen to anyone. However, I am getting closer to warding them off by inviting them in, just as Mom did.
I look up to Gail, of course, but I look up to Suzanne, too. She is one tough girl. I asked her, after ridding herself of the fears of dying and flying, if perchance she was afraid of anything else.
“Skunks,” she answered.
I’d forgotten about this one.
Apparently, as many fears do, this one was started years ago as a result of an incident in her childhood.
She was in the backyard in a wooden swing constructed by our brother John, the woodsmith. He made the swing for our youngest brother Ryan with safety features such as escape-proof wooden sides and leg openings that required assistance in order to get out.
Suzanne was a few years older than Ryan, and she was able to enjoy the swing as well. Captain David—long before he was a pilot—was swinging her in this swing in the backyard, when a skunk approached. Everyone panicked and ran inside—except Suzanne. She was stuck in the swing.
In the end, just like the snake, the skunk did no harm—at least not with spray. The incident left Suzanne traumatized for life. Way to go, David.
This one’s for you, Suzanne–and you too, David.
Mephitophobia: fear of skunks.
This benign fear of skunks is the only fear Suzanne has to deal with now. Not even a fear of dying, she says. She has faith.
Then there’s Gail. I didn’t even really need to ask. I knew the answer. She really has no fears. Not even dying (thanatophobia), or the dentist (odontophobia). I asked her that specifically because I posed the question to her as I was driving myself to the dentist. I was scared of the pain I was sure to feel. (In the end, I didn’t.)
“Pfft.” Or something like it, is what I heard on the other end. “Pain? What’s that?” Again, I didn’t need to ask.
I’ve covered some of the biggies with my own fears, but there are many more out there, some that I found interesting:
Globophobia: fear of balloons.
Ailurophobia: fear of cats
Alektorophobia: fear of chickens
Koumpounophobia: fear of buttons
Emetophobia: fear of vomiting.
Bananaphobia: fear of, of course, bananas.
Omphalophobia: fear of belly buttons
I have a friend who would confess that she does have a tiny little fear of clowns: coulrophobia. I won’t laugh at her, because they are sometimes very scary. Besides, I have cynophobia, but for good reason. I’ve been attacked once and bitten once by dogs. I don’t think she has ever been bitten or attacked by a clown.
Still, no fears I can come up with for Gail.
I love a good summer storm as an adult. As a child, however, I used to fear the severe storms that Kansas summers brought. I recall one violent windstorm in the dark without electricity that was apparently a tornado, as evidenced by the damage we found the next day. I was perhaps eight or ten. I remember that it was late at night, and if any of us had already gone to bed, it woke us up. This was in the days before precise weather predictions or radar were the norm, so we didn’t know what to think. We did have faith. We got out our rosaries and knelt down in the living room and prayed. It was all we could do, and all we needed to do. We all survived. The rosary has a way of dimming fear. It is held during prayers and serves as a sign of the power of prayer. It is a symbol of fearlessness through faith.
In the end, and the beginning and middle as well, faith is really the only thing you need to conquer your fears, whatever they may be.
Immediately after our parents died, we were faced with many grim tasks. One of them was claiming their material possessions from the police. Captain David handled that. He can take a jet up and bring it down, and he can carry out tasks that take so much more strength and faith than that. Like claiming his parents’ possessions just after they died.
He told us this comforting report that was told to him: both Mom and Dad had rosaries in their pockets.
That brings me comfort still. Knowing too, that they were always prepared to go because of their faith. In the face of death, I know they were fearless.
They were driving an Intrepid, which, by the way, means fearless. Dad loved to drive a Dodge. I like to think they drove fearlessly straight to Heaven in their Intrepid. If we could all be so lucky to go in just one moment, without warning, without pain; without fear.
I can safely say Gail and Suzanne are intrepid. (Except for the skunk thing with Suzanne.) I, however, am not. I am getting better, though. I am working on it. Right now, I am going to wrap this up and go sit on the east side of my porch–with or without the snake. I am going to live without fear of that long-gone snake.
I embellished the steps with yard art to make them more welcoming. It’s working. My son made me laugh as he took the picture. It really is laughable, the fact that I avoided this beautiful space for several years because of a snake that slithered under the porch right where my feet are in this picture. See? No snake! Except for those snake-like veins on my legs. I hope they don’t scare you. They used to scare me, but I’ve made peace with them. I inherited them from Mom and they are a part of me. Unlike many of my patients, my legs work, and I am grateful for that every day.
And please don’t worry that Captain David would bail on you if he were your pilot and he encountered trouble in the air, like, perhaps, a skunk. (Even though he bailed on Suzanne years ago.) He has the strength and faith to get you there safely. If you go down, he goes down, too. Plus, like my sisters, he, too, appears to be intrepid.
Now get out there and conquer your own snakes. Or clowns. Or belly-buttons. Whatever your fears may be, fight them and live life.
Gail, her daughter Lydia, Suzanne and I spent the weekend together. Lydia continues to be an intrepid young warrior in her lifelong fight against Type One diabetes. She has an incredible intrepid role model to follow in her mother.
Gail, Suzanne and I will not be able to take our Colorado trip on Labor Day weekend this year. We will attempt to make up for it later. We enjoyed our weekend, as evidenced by this parting shot at the hotel. As you can see, I am actively working on overcoming my fear of dogs. Special thanks to Sue, our photographer/hotel manager.
Thank you for your continued support of my blog. If you have a Facebook account, and you haven’t already done so, please go to our new page THE SISTER LODE and like it in order to follow the blog, and who knows what else we may post in the future. Due to Facebook changes, I can no longer post to my personal profile on Facebook, so the blog will only appear on THE SISTER LODE Facebook page, and always at http://www.thesisterlode.com.
Thank you to my computer Swami, who wishes to remain anonymous because he doesn’t need any more work. He saved all my files from my old computer, which completely bit the dust. He helped me get my new one up and running as soon as it arrived. Thanks too to my son Joel, who helped me choose my new computer online.