Wednesday, April 19, 2006

fear

Fear is one of those overwhelming experiences beyond our ability to control sometimes. No, fear can be controlled by some of us some of the time. I am aware that my own fear these days is reduced to an encompassing sense of anxiety that emanates from my body as muscle contractions in my chest, tears, and a need for deep penetrating screams. Most often fear in my life these days results in a phone call, a panting, breathy "I hate you, I hate you because you make me feel this way". My fear is invested with an absolute desire not to take responsibility for how I feel.

The Buddhists tell us that it is not what happens to us but how we choose to react to that happenstance that makes the difference in our lives. And fear, fear of loss, fear of being made a fool, fear of having to share affection, attention and relationship existing between me and my partner sends me into paroxysms of deeply felt anger, fear!

The only good thing about my fear these days is that I don't keep it inside. I don't punish myself with a hidden garden variety growing deep within my soul. Rather, I savage the world with my feelings, pretending only for a moment that what I m experiencing is anger. I admit far more quickly than at any other time in my life that it is not anger, but deeply felt, overwhelming fear that has inveigled it's way into my psyche and is destroying my equanimity.

And to be perfectly honest, that same fear has not risen much of late and when it has, the sensation has been short lived. No screaming, no contorted muscularity, no hair pulling and voice box constricture.

These days I am beginning to trust and that trust is the antagonist to the fear. If I trust, if my world feels safe, if I have a place to discuss my fear before it overwhelms me, I am able to have some control over it. I can move on, understand what the loss is that sends me into this fear.

The best example I can offer you of this sensation would be a Thanksgiving bout with that massive contortion that overwhelmed me. Here I was in Australia for my first Thanksgiving..and my last! I really fantasized that it could in some way be the experience I have had for years with my own family. It wasn't; it couldn't be. It was far too great an ask of these Aussies, these independent, lackadaisical holidaymakers. It wasn't even a holiday for them. What is a Thursday in Oz? Just another work/school day, certainly not the holiday of the year when all the emotional baggage of families comes together to create an emotional intensity that only the tryptophan in the turkey could possibly deflate.

There were two turkeys that Thanksgiving. The first one at a cost of some $49 we inadvertently left under the black plastic cover in the spring sunshine as we unloaded the groceries from the Ute. A day later when we discovered our lapse, because as you might imagine, there was a stench reaching round the neighborhood. The turkey went into the trash. The second bird at the same price did make it to the refrigerator along with the whole pumpkin and the English 'bangers' instead of my Jimmy Dean sausage for stuffing.

I had never made pumpkin pie from scratch. It worked quite well. I have to admit that I didn't make the crust. Shortbread crust frozen from the supermarket served me well.

The turkey wasn't too dry; the mashed potatoes were tasty if lumpy. The stuffing was gross, missing the texture and spicy taste of American ready-made sausage. The pumpkin pie was a winner, and the marshmallows on the sweet potatoes garnered only a few brilliant laughs. Certainly they were left on the side of the plate, not eaten. The sweet potato mash was ok with my diners, though.

So where was the fear? It came earlier in the day when my partner inquired if I had to remain home to watch the turkey. I admitted that I did. It needed to be basted about every twenty minutes. He then changed clothes, put on his best shorts and cotton shirt in order to go out to see some of the production fellows from whom he purchased goods for his work.

I realized I was being left alone. On Thanksgiving, I was being left alone. The one day when family were always about, when the day started with Eggs Benedict and champagne and ended with pumpkin pie and whipped cream and a good movie on TV, a day when football games, parades, and twenty-four hours of Twilight Zone backgrounded, here I was in the huge Queenslander alone, basting my turkey.

What was my fear? That I had made a huge mistake, that I could never be part of this society, that these Aussies could never understand or honour my needs for ritual, that I was a dupe, that no one really wanted me here, that once again I was being rejected for simply being who I am. Yup, all the old morass of misunderstandings overwhelmed me. I couldn't tell my Australian family. I was sure they wouldn't understand.

I'm not sure I have ever told them about that experience, at least not the way I have just written it down. It wasn't the first nor the last bout with fear that I have experienced in the four years of travel to and from Australia, but it is a good example of the depths to which I can go when fear of being misunderstood, of feeling the fool, of feeling inadequate, of feeling rejection can take me.

One might think that by the time a human being reaches 65, this sense of fallibility would have been overcome. Not so, my dear reader, not so.