Thursday, January 19, 2017

Essay #3: Fear of fear of fear...

            I got lunch at the Great Northern Food Hall at Grand Central today. After buying a curried herring on rye smorebrod, I wandered around looking for a place to sit. A whole section of tables had been cut off “for a charity event” and all the seats on the north side of the food area were taken. On the opposite side, I saw a l ong banquette that was empty, so I sat down, took off hat and scarf, put backpack and purse on the floor, and took a bite from my sandwich (which was delicious, BTW).
            A young woman in uniform came over to inform me that this seatting was only for full-service customers, and I would have to move. Well, where was I supposed to move to? There were no free seats. She was polite but insistent that I had to move. I refused. If you find me a seat, I’ll move, I said. She stared at me, clearly angry, and repeated that I had to move. I said, I can’t move if there’s no place to move to. She strode away, and I wondered if she was going to call security.
            I felt like a cranky old lady. I wondered if there would be a scene. I wondered if I would be arrested. I was a bit frightened, but also a tiny bit exhilarated.
            The young woman returned to say she’d found me a seat. Fine. I picked up all my stuff and followed her to a row of high stools at a bar, which I had thought was only for people ordering at that food station. I thanked the young woman and finished the excellent smorebrod.
            Was I so daring today because of what I started writing for this essay yesterday? By  writing about fear, Girl Griot had sparked the following.
            Fear is one of the topics on my essay list. I too suffer from fear and probably have most of my life. I was going to start with the poem "A Chant Against Fear" by Jamaican poet Tanya Shirley. “A Chant Against Fear” lists 32 of Shirley’s fears. Here is a small list of mine.
Fear of new schools.
Fear of calling someone in school by the wrong name.
Fear of pronouncing words wrong (my mother's sister is my ant in Brooklyn, my aunt in Connecticut, my ant in Pennsylvania).
Fear of being stupid, and fear of being too smart.
Fear of riding a bike.
Fear of the horses I love in the fields across the road.
Fear of never having a boyfriend.
Fear of what would happen if I had a boyfriend.
Fear that no one would ever ask me to marry him.
Fear that I would marry the wrong person.
Fear of becoming a mother.
Fear of never having a child.
Fear of making the wrong decisions.
Fear of speaking up in public.
Fear of swimming.
Fear of being a woman alone.
            Just as Girl Griot relates, I too have been called “brave” for writing about my personal life and feelings, and reading that writing aloud to strangers. I didn’t feel brave. Yes, I was nervous about reading aloud. Would my stories connect to anyone else? Was I the only one who felt this way?
            In elementary school I’d be afraid to raise my hand when the teacher asked a question because I’d have to speak aloud, even from my seat. But I was more afraid of the teacher thinking I didn’t know the answer, so I’d  sometimes dare to raise my hand. In high school I was afraid of going to the Friday night dance party at school, but I went anyway. Maybe this time someone would ask me to dance, but that rarely happened, and no one asked me twice. I was overcoming one fear and encountering another.
            In college speech was a required class. I was afraid to stand in front of a class of 10 and give a talk on a subject of my choosing. If I looked at my notes and didn’t look at the faces staring up at me, I could manage it. Almost twenty years later I was standing in front of a class of 18 undergraduates as a professor, terrified of whether I could teach, but by now confident that I knew what I was talking about.
            When I hit 50, it felt like several layers of fear were sloughed off. For a while, at least, I ceased worrying about what other people thought of me. How did this happen? I don’t really know. Perhaps I’d learned that those people whose opinions I worried about were just as worried themselves. Were we all in a feedback loop of fear?
            As I’ve gotten older yet, fears of aging have crept in. Fear of losing my memory. Fear of dementia (which neither of my parents had, and they lived into their 90s). Fear of infirmity. Fear of losing friends to death, as I’ve already lost Jack, my husband. Fear of illness as I live alone. Fear of dying. All quite normal fears, I suppose.
            I think I’ve lost my fear of speaking personally in public because I now feel I have to speak up. How else can I connect to others if not by raising my voice. And listening to others as well. And reading their words, as I hope they will read mine.
             And did I lose my fear of confrontation because my leg hurts when I stand for more than a couple of minutes? I had to sit down, no matter what. And I didn't have to justify to Jack whatever bad consequences occurred. I was on my own. I am on my own. For a few minutes at least, I was not afraid to be a woman alone.
In 2017, I'm trying to write an essay a week. You can join in. 
Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

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