One of my favorite books as a teenager was Dune, by Frank Herbert. If you’re part of the baby boom generation, or within shouting distance of being a baby boomer, you’ll remember this best-selling science fiction novel. A famous line was “fear is the mind-killer,” which is part of a litany against fear. The entire quote says:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
As an adolescent, I remember reading this book and thinking this was a great quote. At that age, one is full of youthful energy, optimism, naivete, and invincibility. Fear and doubt are not the developmental necessities that daring behaviors (and ideas) are, they are obstacles to be overcome with no inherent value. We think we can do anything at that age, most of us–an idea that continues through our child-bearing and child-raising years. We need to develop the ego strength that enables us to shove fear and doubt away, or we’ll not be able to establish practicalities and routines that serve us. Later, though–usually in our 40s–mid-life and teenagers, tragedies and illness and deaths bring a person up short, seeming to punish us for our daring.
Now that I have been a widow for a year and a half, I’ve been reminded yet again about how fragile life is, and more specifically how fragile I am. I am a limited resource, living on limited resources. Everything and everyone runs out eventually. Though the air may not run out, my lungs will. What good is all the air in the world without a working set of lungs? It’s good for those who can still make use of it, nothing more, nothing less.
A friend wrote me a long email recently addressing the anxiety and fear she hears in my voice every time we speak. She’s right: I’m overrun with it, actually. I rarely wake up in the morning or go to bed at night without feeling the vice-like grip of anxiety around my heart. It tumbles around in my stomach all the time, almost, like the ball on a roulette wheel. ’round and ’round it goes, where it lands, nobody knows.
“Where the fear has gone there will be nothing” is hogwash. Fear leaves devastation and paralysis in its wake before it brings forth Version 2.0 of the True Self. This is what grief does; it’s not romantic at all. It’s messy, like giving birth. It’s also textbook, it’s largely predictable, it’s universal, and it’s got to be gone through if one hopes to emerge whole on the other side.
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