Against Fear (An Attempt)

I am reluctant to write today. I am reluctant because I know I am in a position, as a privileged white woman, where I should be listening today, where I should give myself over to all of the feeling I so often feel when it seems that everything is falling apart. And it’s seemed like that a lot recently. But perhaps silence is complicity, and so here I am. Forcing myself to sit and type something instead of distracting myself online as I am wont to do, because maybe my silence makes me complicit, and I can’t be complicit. The world does not need another white female voice, and I know that. But even so, I don’t know what I am feeling until I write it down (to paraphrase Joan Didion), and so here we are.

These are strange, fearsome times, in the world at large, but particularly in this country. In my country, for I must claim it, for it has made me. My country, America. It feels as if everything is falling to bits. It feels as if it can’t get worse, and then it does. It feels as if we are all yelling at each other, some crying out with the pain and trauma of generations, some with fear, ignorance, and hate. We are all yelling and this chasm keeps widening, each trending news item another whack on the chisel between us. It feels as if we are on the brink of something, and I fear that it is something from which we can not return. I fear we are on a high cliff. What happens if we tumble off?

Two black men were murdered by police officers for the all-American crime of existing while black. Then, at a peaceful protest in Dallas, snipers made it their mission to hijack the narrative of those protesters, to hijack the pain and torment and twist it. To turn it into bullets and kill with it. Police officers are dead now. It all keeps getting worse. Everything keeps spiraling, and we are tired and paralyzed. The massacre in Orlando feels like it was years ago, based on how many more horrifying events have shocked us, kicked us, gutted us to our core. Orlando was less than a month ago. These are strange, fearsome times.

I lay in bed this morning, and for the first time in a long time, I did not want to get out of it for reasons other than that of sleepiness or laziness: I did not know how to get out and perform the day. How to perform breakfast, and coffee, and scrolling through the news, when that very news shows that we have failed each other, and we keep failing each other. How to perform this day here, at home, when my people are killing each other? We are a people, a human people, who have rejected community, understanding, and belonging and traded it for the poisonous, tragic virus of fear. We have forgotten that we belong to each other.

colorful hands

Fear has driven our election cycle (still 4 months to go, people!). It has allowed for the rise of a bigoted, racist, misogynistic, populist who spews hate and ignorance in the form of pathetic fourth grade rhetoric. White people, who have for the entire history of this nation profited from a system built by them (by us, by us) at the expense and on the backs of people of color, are turning to fear as the rumble of revolution shakes the ground beneath them. They fear difference. They fear other. They fear change. In the United Kingdom, similar fear-mongering and xenophobic produced a stunning vote to leave the European Union, shaking the world order and knolling a single death toll for the kind of globalist future I crave, and I dream of for those after me. The nation that colonized the entire planet suddenly fears those formerly colonized peoples coming to its shores.

I recently finished a short book by Sebastian Junger, a war journalist and filmmaker, called Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In this book, Junger writes stunningly about the intrinsic human need to be part of a small, tight-knit community in which we feel a critical part, and how modern society’s rejection of that model has created alienation, historic rates of anxiety and depression, disconnect, and yes–fear. He explores why soldiers returning home from war often find that very war preferable, and why suicide and depression rates have historically dropped in times of war (his accounts of the siege of Sarajevo and the London Blitz are fascinating and thought-provoking). He writes:

Self-determination theory holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.

We have forgotten that we belong to each other, and in the gap void of connection festers fear instead. What we do not know, we fear, and we disaffiliate from any true community beyond that of our home tucked in neighborhoods where nobody knows each other. Western societal structure as allowed for lack of sacrifice and lack of responsibility. Lack of accountability. “The ultimate act of disaffiliation,” Junger writes, “[is] violence against your own people…Murder and mayhem [are] committed by an individual who has rejected all social bonds and attacks people at their most vulnerable and unprepared.” Fear begets violence, begets fear, begets violence, begets fear…

I don’t know what to do. This whole thing has made me sound much more hopeful than I am, when in all truth and honesty (because there is no room here, no room anywhere for anything besides truth and honesty right now), I am sick, and I am heart-broken, and I am angry, and I am scared. I am all of the things that not enough words can hold, not matter how I try. I have great fear in me, for myself selfishly, but beyond that. For all of us, for this society we’ve tried to shape. For the so very many souls inhabiting black bodies in America. I feel fear. But I don’t know what to do with that fear, and so it sits there on the table in front of me, staring at me as I type to try and dismantle it. It sits here in the gut and stomach within me, threatening to clench the hope away and force me to resort to the worst thing a modern citizen could resort to: apathy. This fear is ugly and it is useless, and so I am attempting to move against it. “Hope” has always been a slightly empty word, right up there with thoughts and prayers. But maybe it’s what we have to choose. Choose hope. Choose action. There is no other option. Despair? That doesn’t feel like a real option. If we lived in despair, we would cease to function, and this world needs us. It needs you.

Please, I implore you, do not choose fear. Act and speak against fear. I ask you to hold me to do the same.


P.S. This poem circulated online after the Orlando Massacre, and it has both gutted me and soothed me since. I hope it can do the same for you:

good bones
Poem by Maggie Smith

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