That Fear Itself.
As a child, I never really grasped what FDR meant when he uttered the phrase in his inauguration speech.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Seriously, what the hell does that mean? It seemed, at least to me, like he was just trying to make a snazzy, one-liner phrase. My 10-year-old brain clearly failed to grasp what he had put so simply.
The true thing to be afraid of is…being afraid.
When we are so paralyzed with fear that we do nothing, that is the worst situation that could happen. In that moment of life or death, when our flight or fight is meant to kick into gear and get our ass out of the situation or stand our ground and bare our teeth…not doing anything means we have already lost.
But I realized something. It’s not just the fear.
It’s something else.
It’s something deeper, larger, much more infinite than what we can truly grasp. Sure, we have glimpses of it. We think about it and touch it with our mind every so often, and many of us fall over that precipice and down, down, down…down into the dark spiral that we cannot escape. If we are lucky we do, but for some, they are lost.
It is the unknown.
When I was a child, the unknown manifested itself as a dark bedroom where monsters lay in wait. They were there, I knew it…except, I didn’t know it. But I felt it. And that unknown, that possibility — that became that paralyzing fear.
As I grew up, the unknown soon morphed and evolved into something else. Something that seemed benign.
It came in the form of “the future.”
Every move I made in my academic career was to somehow assuage and fight against this unknown. I equipped myself with the best tools that I could think of to shine a light on this scary, dark unknown. But every step of the way, there was the reminder of it.
Would I be able to pay the bills? Will I ever find something I truly care about doing for the rest of my life? Will I be alone forever?
Somehow, thankfully, I had managed to fumble through. I managed to convince people that I could be a meaningful contributor to society, ergo I should be paid. So yes, I did pay my bills. I haven’t found my life’s calling yet, but I’m still searching. And no, I’m glad to know that I won’t be alone forever.
The unknown still appears every now and then.
And most recently, it has come again.
Because I’m pregnant.
The unknown is now a part of me. Since the moment I found out that a little bundle of cells was furiously splitting to form itself into a small (hopefully fully functioning) human, I carry the unknown with me.
For the longest time, it felt like an abyss. Was this human inside of me really okay? I just ate a bunch of junk food. Is that going to make her lose a few IQ points?
It was like Schrödinger’s uterus. I have no clue what is going on inside.
In short, she is a stranger to me right now. She is an unknown.
And holy shit, that is scary.
I’m scared that I won’t do a good job. I’m scared that I’m not up to the task, that I will somehow irrevocably damage her. I’m scared that the world will damage her. I am scared that her own mistakes and her own choices will lead her down the wrong way. I’m also, if I’m completely honest, scared that she may be a difficult child to deal with. An even more difficult teenager. Perhaps an equally difficult adult.
But here I am. Blind to “the future” — knowing that it’s out there.
This is facing the unknown.
It’s ambiguous, and it’s hard. And just to repeat: it is scary as hell.
But then, here’s the thing: every moment and every choice means a splinter into an infinite number of possibilities.
Everything in this world as we fumble through is the unknown.
Somehow, the bigger moments in our life in our own mind’s narrative seem to have so much more consequence. But any small choice can have just as large of a ripple on our lives. We just take those small steps less carefully.
Crossing the road too soon could mean death, or it could mean you run into someone that you spend the rest of your life with. Taking that job could mean the beginning of a long lasting, wonderful career. Or it could be a detour that tears you down, but with those scars you build yourself back up again.
But what of the path that was not taken? It was there, now it is gone. It will forever be an unknown.
We can’t grasp it.
And maybe we shouldn’t.
I don’t know.
But what I do know is that even though the unknown makes me uncomfortable, there is only one choice: move forward. Move. Just move. Just try.
Blinded or not, raise your head high. Be ready to embrace what may come, rather than be paralyzed and stagnant. Life will never be the same.
We will never be able to know the unknown.