Bravado on shaky ground

As a result of my apparent global kind of bravery, I have always felt a kind of moral superiority.

bravado 88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
bravado 88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
I consider myself a fairly courageous person by the standards of the day. I fear not heights, water, dogs, open spaces nor even flying. I can drive my car with reasonable calmness in torrential rains, sandstorms or even both at once. Israeli drivers alarm, but do not terrify me. When fire alarms go off, I quietly and resolutely march down the stairs, neither panicking nor palpitating. Many times daily, I enter elevators in the hospital where I work, without fear of getting stuck, neither with a fellow worker nor with the irate family members of any of my patients. After many years of self-analysis, I conclude that I am neither an alchinophobe (sharp objects) nor astraphobic (thunderstorms). I suffer from neither bathophobia (depths) nor chionophobia (snow). I have never been fearful of crowds (demophobia) nor worried about falling asleep (hypnophobia). I am not afraid to speak my mind; thus no one can accuse me of being a lalophobe. I love to sail and so could never be considered a thalassophobe (oceans). As an intern, I was never afraid of the patients, even when I perhaps should have been. Once, when I was assigned to the psychiatry service, a man who said (and looked like) he wanted to kill came into the emergency room with a complaint relating to these somewhat unusual and possibly deadly impulses. Even I knew that he had to be admitted for closed treatment, and unfortunately there were no free psychiatry beds in our hospital. I phoned around the city, finally locating a place in a sister hospital 20 minutes away by car. The nurse vetoed my sending the patient alone by cab to St. Elsewhere, so I jauntily offered to go with him. "Taxi!" I called nonchalantly and hopped into the back seat with my patient as soon as the cab pulled up to the emergency-room door. The poor cab driver, after listening to the ravings of our mutual charge, soon realized that this was no ordinary fare. As a result of my apparent global kind of bravery, I have always felt a kind of moral superiority regarding those who suffer from phobias. Like most of us without these irrational fears, I tended to look down on those plagued by them, assuming that if only these weaklings could be just a bit more courageous, their fears would dissipate. However, I now realize that I too, brave soul that I have always considered myself to be, suffer from one of these unconscious trepidations: fear of - of all things - earthquakes. Moving here from a more geologically stable Canada hasn't helped me with my seismophobia. IT MUST HAVE started years ago. Newsreels, movies or stories about the Great San Francisco Quake of 1906 have always provided morbid fascination for me. I am intrigued by wandering around ancient temples (e.g., the Acropolis) where giant columns have been tumbled like a child's blocks by the convulsions of the earth's crust. Ozymandias and all that... I recently traveled to San Francisco and wondered, as I looked out the 32nd-floor window of my hotel room, how I would react if the building started to sway back and forth. In retrospect, I even felt a kind of curious relief as the plane took off from that fair city, knowing that in that part of the world, it may be safer (all things considered) to be flying over San Francisco than standing on its sidewalks. But it was not until the Great Quebec Quake of November 25, 1988, that I realized how deep this phobia rested within me. At the time we were still living in Canada. My wife, my daughter at the time aged three and I were quietly eating dinner on that fateful Erev Shabbat when my wife asked: "Who's that?" It sounded as if someone were ascending our porch steps, and I got up to see who it was, fully expecting the door knocker to sound at any moment. However, as I walked toward the front door, it became quite clear that our visitor was no mere human. The windows started to rattle and the house began to shake. My wife, with a smile, said: "Oh, it's an earthquake" as if she were telling me from another room that the phone was ringing. I rushed to the kitchen, grabbed my daughter and did exactly what one is not supposed to do - ran outside into the street. Needless to say, my three-year-old instantly picked up my calm approach to the emergency and started to scream, "Daddy, what's the matter? Why are you taking me outside without my coat on? It's cold out, wahhh (etc., etc.)." Of course it was all over in a few seconds and no real damage done, except to my ego. Our house still stood and no ominous cracks appeared in the walls. The foundation remained secure and the roof all in one piece. We found out the next day that the epicenter was about 140 km. north of Quebec City and about 1,000 kilometers from our house. The strength of the quake was 6 on the Richter scale - certainly high enough, if it had occurred in a built-up area, to have done serious damage. The quake was felt all the way to Toronto in the west, the Maritimes in the east and Washington, D.C. in the south. Canadian government geological experts confidently predicted that any aftershocks would be much less powerful. I was, however, less than reassured since these same authorities not only failed to predict the quake, but were foolish enough to admit such an egregious error. Although we have since moved here, an area less stable in so many charming ways than staid old Canada, my usual equanimity had returned. My calm exterior was back in place. Life goes on and I am resigned to its perturbations. My only problem was that when I heard someone walking up our front-porch steps last Friday at 12:47, and realized there was no one there, it was all I could do to physically restrain myself from flinging open the nearest window and jumping out.