People ask me quite frequently, "Aren't you afraid living in the inner city?"
My answer is always about the same.
"No, I'm not afraid most of the time. Nothing in my experience so far makes me feel any more afraid here than in other places where I have lived. But there are times when it pays to exercise caution."
Fear is a powerful emotion. It possesses power to motivate or to de-motivate, that's for sure! And there are things to fear in the city, just as there are elsewhere.
How are we to manage our fears? I encounter this question often among the folks who are my neighbors. Fear can be an overwhelming force.
Yann Martel's marvelous novel, Life of Pi, offers this insight about fear in general:
"I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.
"Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead like an opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as if they had malaria and your knees to shake as though they were dancing. Your heart strains too hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear.
"Quickly, you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you've defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.
"The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you." (pages 161-162)
Yann's wisdom, more fully spun out in his amazing story, counsels us to face fear.
Speak honestly to and about our fears.
Never turn away from that which we fear the most.
Keep walking, keep battling, keep speaking truth and keep trying to form alliances in the community where fear can be named and defeated.
Like Pi Patel, the hero of Yann's tale, we all encounter our own tigers and shipwrecks that must be faced, endured and, ultimately, defeated.
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