DAILY PROMPT Fearless Fantasies How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? Would your life be better or worse than it is now?
Not so, my complicated beloved. Fear is informative. Paranoia or neurosis, well maybe those aren’t so useful but fear? Fear is good. I know this because I took you at your word that evening and let your sentence inform my life. I loved you and I thought you were smarter than I. Maybe I wanted to be a little more like you and a little less like me. But after all, I learned useful things about fear not from you but from rattlesnakes.
Yes, Peter. Rattlesnakes. For many, many years after I moved to California, I hiked every day in the chaparral.
California? I always picture you in Denver.
I picture you there, too, but of course you’re actually dead and Denver is not the Denver we knew.
Hiking, huh. In California? Well, you always liked that nature thing. Rattlesnakes?
People — me too — are categorically afraid of rattlesnakes. It took me many snake encounters (one a day during “snake season”) to understand fear. I learned the difference between a snake that was just chilling and a snake I should worry about. I stepped over snakes without seeing them more than once, too, but usually I saw them. My first encounter terrified me. I got that whole “Zero at the bone” Emily Dickinson went on about.
I hardly think you can say Emily Dickinson “went on” about anything.
Touché. After a while, though I was never exactly blasé over the rattlesnake thing, the snakes became a feature of a landscape and I liked to see them.
But the one time I needed fear it was there and it helped me. I’d stepped off the trail with two of my dogs because mountain bikers were approaching. They were 100 feet away, maybe less. I always hiked with a four foot long stick — my mom called it a “snake stick” and I called it a hiking stick, but I did use it to warn snakes by pounding the ground when I hiked and it was long enough to move a snake safely away from me or a dog if I had to. Just as we stepped off the trail I heard a frantic “buzz.” I looked down and a small snake was inches from my dog’s face. Though I was not aware of it at the specific moment, time had slowed down — a powerful property of fear giving us an interval to master the moment. I looked at the snake. It was ready to strike. I lifted my stick and placed it directly between the snake’s sharp end and my dog’s face. The result? The snake backed off in surprise and vanished in the grass. I looked up, expecting that the mountain bikers would have passed, but they were still nearly as far away from us as they had been when I stepped off the trail.
What’s the point?
Fear gives us superpowers when it’s legitimate fear and not some neurotic pseudo-fear.
Yes, but what I was saying to you that night was that if you would stop being afraid of divorcing your abusive husband you would be happy.
That was all you were saying?
You understood me. Do you remember what you did that night?
Yes. I made the decision. Two days later I filed the papers.
Yes. What I meant, Martha, is that fear can be an obstacle to growth and progress. You should have been afraid of HIM all those years, not afraid of me.
Oh Peter. Be fair. You were dangerous, objectively and truly dangerous.
I know. I wish it had not been that way. You wrote about us, didn’t you?
I did. I hope I wrote well. For all its problems and impossibility, ours was a great love and one that demanded courage from us both. There is no courage without fear and life without courage would be an empty thing.
Snake by Emily Dickinson
A narrow fellow in the grass
You may have met him, -did you not?
His notice sudden is.
The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.
He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,
Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun, –
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.
Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.
P. S. Dear Daily Prompt: The main way our lives would be different if we did not feel fear is that most of us would be dead prematurely. Still, here’s a little something related to the subject of fear and its usefulness.