Nothing easier than to say ‘have no fear! Nothing more difficult. How does one kill fear, I wonder? How do you shoot a specter through the heart, slash off its spectral head, take it by its spectral throat? It is an enterprise you rush into while you dream, and are glad to make your escape with wet hair and every limb shaking. Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
Fear – that seems to be the topic of the day. At least for me. Fear; clammy and cold – sweating, staying up at night with that knot in your stomach. It drives decisions; it guides reactions; it robs us of present and taints our past.
Sometimes in a movie we come across a line or two that makes us think. This morning I shipped my little boy off to school and took some much-need down-time to watch a movie. You see I’ve been afraid; sometimes the world is overwhelming, dark and ominous and foreboding – a place of gargoyles when it perhaps needent be. But instead of shrugging things off, I instead for some reason hunker down, breathe deeply and give in to it. It’s easier that way; fear is the world’s most competent warden. At any rate, I watched a Will Smith movie; a scyfy about the world post-apocalypse. After a plane crash on a hostile planet, he is walking his son (yes his literal son) through a situation of which the boy is afraid. I’m paraphrasing a little, but the idea of the guidance goes, “Son, fear doesn’t exist. It is made-up, because it is your thoughts about something that will happen in the future. A story you have in your mind about how you will deal, what it will be like, how you might respond. Danger is real – but fear? Fear is fiction”. I kind of appreciated this idea; of course because it is true, doesn’t even the book of Luke in the Bible read, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” But also because I am a storyteller – which is maybe why the fear I create in my own mind is so powerful. I can spin a yarn with the best of them (even if my book sales don’t reflect that) and the first rule of storytelling is that, if you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a story. The greater the conflicts, the more monumental the adversity – the more engaging the story. J.R.R. Tolkien called these stories “eucatastrophies”; situations where everything is terrible – evil advances from Mordor across the world and the darkness billows like a cloud forcing out the light and the good guys get killed or injured and the great men turn to the dark side until, at the very end, it is all saved by a sudden and dramatic turn of events. Incidentally, this is what the “passion narratives” of Christ are all about.
But who wants to live in a eucatastrophe? Sounds exhausting – Frodo Baggins going from one tribulation to the next in an unending line. No thanks. Besides, those are just stories as well. Like sitting around a campfire in front of a lake, against the backdrop of a dark forest as we seek to fill our hearts with dread to prove that we are still alive.
As I indicated above, I’m almost finished with Lord Jim (review forthcoming) – and it is a story about fear; about the irrational acts that define life, self-fulfilling acts of stupidity product of the little stories we tell ourselves, one after another and another and another and another until we are living among the wreckage and ruins of a world of our own making.
There’s an old adage – if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. If you find yourself afraid and making bad decisions, missing out on opportunities or accepting less than you otherwise would, start telling yourself a different story. When you stop waiting for the other shoe to drop, you often realize that it never does.