We all have fears that affect our lives. When I counsel men with intermediate-stage prostate cancer -- a curable disease with several treatment options -- I notice that patients who choose surgery often fear the side effects of radiation and, conversely, patients who select radiation usually fear the consequences of prostatectomy.
On the Internet, one can find numerous lists of fears, many with hyperlinks to detailed resources. One can discover information about, for example, the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth (arachibutyrophobia), the fear of Bolsheviks, and the fear of chopsticks. And that''s just looking at subheadings of "A", "B" and "C." There''s even a syndrome related to the fear of being afraid (phobophobia).
We may laugh at some of the funny-sounding phobias, but phobias can be debilitating, hampering people’s lives. Often, professional help and significant personal effort is needed to extinguish phobias. I have no professional expertise in that area. My interest in this "52" process lies in considering the nature and possible origin of my fears and exploring them to learn more about myself. Perhaps you will choose to do the same for yourself, along with me. I''ll share two examples from my own experiences with phobias.
Until my teens, I had an intense fear of swimming. At 17, I was working as a counselor in a sleepover camp in Pennsylvania. One morning in July, I invited four campers to join me in a row boat on the lake. It was fun for me to manipulate the heavy oars and to give the 9-year-olds a tour of the expansive body of water nestled in the Pocono Mountains.
Suddenly, as I was rowing peacefully, the camp director swooped by in a powerboat. As I caught sight of his approach, the theme from Jaws echoed in my head. My hands flailing, I shouted, "No Larry, I can''t swim!" Just then, the boat’s turbulent wake hit like a tsunami. I recall worrying that, if we capsized, our orange life jackets wouldn''t save us. Fortunately we managed to shift our bodies to balance and right our small vessel.
When we made it back to the dock, the director apologized for his little joke and took it upon himself to arrange swimming lessons for me with Alan, the Head of the waterfront and among the most patient teachers I’ve ever encountered. In the ensuing seven weeks, I overcame my fear of swimming and have swum almost every day since. (And I still keep in touch with Larry and Alan.)
I can trace my fear of dogs back to an incident that occurred when I was about seven years old, at a time in my life when my love of sweets had me brushing my teeth with Snickers bars. One afternoon, as my best friend and I were watching TV at his house, his sister called out, "Who wants candy?" “Me!” I cried, unaware that Candy was their German Shepherd’s name. The dog charged and upended me.
About a dozen years ago, upon realizing that there would be no little sister for her to rear, our youngest daughter used her charm to convince us to adopt a mutt. Even though, being mostly Golden Retriever, Shoo-Shoo is genetically endowed with a gentle temperament, I manage only to co-exist with him. My fear of dogs -- cynophobia --still lingers.
These days, the concept of F.O.M.O. is of interest. The Urban Dictionary defines the acronym as "fear of missing out, usually related to events” and offers the example sentence, "Even though he was exhausted, John''s FOMO got the best of him and so he went to the party."
I believe FOMO should be reckoned with less at the acute level and more in the existential sphere. At first blush, we might wish to eliminate our fears- but maybe they serve a purpose. Perhaps our fears remind us about what we may “miss out” on in life. Maybe the next time you find yourself with heart palpitations at the edge of a high cliff, or sweating with anxiety prior to committing to an intimate relationship, or feeling faint before a public speaking opportunity, you can take a deep breath and pause. Just briefly.
By reflecting on your fear, you may choose to take action to prevent the regret that may arise from missing a meaningful moment in life.
Until next Monday, Shalom.