For What It’s Worth

Fearing fears

In the oft-repeated words of FDR, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Whether or not we believe this, all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, must admit that we have some fears. We may not be up-front about them and we may be able to avoid confronting them most of the time, but they exist. Some are private fears; others may be fears we share in common with many folks.

No doubt, for example, you know someone who deals with acrophobia, the fear of heights. I don’t happen to be a victim of this fear, but I have had some experiences resulting in feelings that bordered on acrophobia. At least, they gave me a better understanding of what it might be like to experience acrophobia.

While in Nashville, TN, several years ago, I had an opportunity to be in a hotel that was open in the center from the lobby to the top of the hotel with balconies on each level. It had a glass elevator, and I rode that up to one of the upper levels—the 16th or 17th floor or whatever, I don’t remember for sure. The elevator ride didn’t bother me, but an experience on the balcony did. I stepped to the railing and peered down into the open atrium. Whoa! It felt like the balcony floor was swaying. I had to fight off a queasy feeling and give myself strong encouragement to remain at the balcony a few moments to take in the view.

On another occasion while we were still publishing the newspaper in Millington, TN, I rode in an open cage (it has a name, but I can’t recall it) with a waist-high railing. I was attached to a cable and lifted skyward by a crane. The purpose was to take pictures for the newspaper of a construction site. Perhaps, the container was no more than 60 or 70 feet in the air—I never asked how high I was—but it seemed like 200 or 300 feet, at least. Nice view, I think, but I didn’t bother to take it in or enjoy it. With eyes wide open and my insides quivering, I quickly snapped a few pictures and signaled I was ready to descend.

On the ground, I thanked the crew foreman for allowing me to take the pictures. He said they were happy to have assisted and asked if I enjoyed the ride and the view. I lied to him, saying, “Sure.” In reality, I was just thankful to have dry slacks.

Claustrophobia, fear of being enclosed in a confined space, is another fear some people experience and one which can be quite terrifying. Until just over a year ago, I had no real understanding of how frightening claustrophobia can be. That understanding came when I had an MRI tube experience.

Beforehand, I was not concerned about it. Then, I had to lie on my back and put my arms by my side with instructions not to move for about 30 minutes. I was slowly moved inside a tube with less than a foot of clearance. The first 10 minutes or so were fine; then, the confinement began to press in on me. My mind went into overdrive to find ways of distracting myself. My prayer life picked up noticeably, and I began to sing hymns—in my mind, of course, not audibly. At home, singing in the shower makes the water back up, so who knows what might have happened if I had begun singing out loud in an MRI tube. For some unknown reason, the one hymn that kept coming to mind was Amazing Grace, and I have no idea how many times I sang all four verses to myself. Recently, I discovered that there is a fifth verse in some hymnals. Had I known it, I would have gladly included it in my silent concert.

That brush with claustrophobia assured me of a couple of things. One, I have no intentions of undergoing another MRI; and, two, I have a much better understanding of what those who have claustrophobia must experience when it strikes.

Earlier this week, I read a news story about another fear: arachnophobia, fear of spiders. I have not had an incident that gave me a better appreciation for what people with arachnophobia experience, but apparently it can lead to unusual behavior.

According to the news story, a man in Seattle tried to kill a spider in his laundry room by setting it on fire using a lighter and spray paint. I assume the spider was killed. The story didn’t say, but it did report that a fire started and the house sustained $60,000 in damage. Apparently trying to kill a spider using a lighter is not unique to the Seattle man. In June, a woman in Kansas tried to use a lighter to kill a spider, and she started a small fire in her duplex. Damage was slight. Again, I don’t know how the spider fared, but the spider’s assailant was arrested.

Reading about arachnophobia caused me to think about fears and led to recalling personal instances of anxious moments, if not ones of fear. It also reminded me that facing fear is a fact of life and how we handle those fears is what’s important, not that we have fears. That, in turn, made me thankful for my Christian faith and the way it helps me in facing and overcoming fears.

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