I'm Afraid We Must Talk. (a.k.a. "I'm afraid. We must talk.")
Can I share a secret with you?
I'm afraid. Like, really afraid.
Somewhere in some cavern within, beneath the daily smiles and underneath the laundry piles, these fears live.
I'm afraid that my son is going to get too confident when he gets his driver’s license in a few short months, and I will receive the worst call a mother could ever receive.
I'm afraid that these aches in my knees and back are not going to go away and I'm slowly going to be able to do so much less than I want to be doing.
I'm afraid that my mom will need me in a few years and that I won't be able to be there for her as fully as my love for her would want me to be.
I'm afraid that the political divide in our country is reaching a tipping point, and that, as with all natural cycles, destruction is the next phase. And that guns will make that destruction deadly.
I'm afraid that our family will be in the same just-making-it-by financial state in five years from now.
I'm afraid of meeting my deathbed with strong feelings of, "wait, I'm not done yet!".
I could go on.
These fears don't dictate my daily actions. Thankfully, I have more control over anxieties than they have over me.
But those fears are always there. In some unconscious way, I know they are at least influencing how I make the mundane decisions that I do.
Why do I share those with you? Because I'm not alone in living with fear.
I'll share another secret with you:
Every single person you know has some sort of fear. And that fear is influencing - even if in the slightest way - the person you know them to be.
And yet ... we all like to pretend that we are above our fears. Especially in my culture, we are encouraged to be "stronger than our fears", to be fearless, and to mask any signs of vulnerability arising from those fears.
Can we please stop it with this already??
Let me share a story with you. I was on my walk the other day (day #1360, unbelievably!). Storms weren't scheduled for a bit, and the sky above me was a clear blue.
I normally take an out-and-back route through my neighborhood, meaning I walk one way for 15 minutes, then turn around and head home. On this particular day, I had just reached the farthest point from my house when a huge BOOM startled the beejeebez out of me. Glancing around, I noticed a dark cloud over the tops of some nearby trees, and realized the storm was going to come in much quicker than I'd thought.
On the (very speedy) walk home, I passed several neighbors who were out for their own walks. With each, I shared a laughing and quick conversation - "Better get home!", "Haha - Think we'll make it?", "Wow - wasn't expecting that!".
Each of us were out in the open, exposed to whatever mother nature decided to offer to us in that moment.
Each of us, as minimal as it might have been, had a biological fear that had crept up with that thunder. It was a fear for our own survival, for our own safety.
What I noticed in these quick exchanges between two frightened people was fascinating: Knowing we were both exposed, vulnerable, and afraid created a unique sense of connection.
It didn't matter how afraid we actually were (after all, it was just a bit of thunder). It didn't matter that we weren't in grave danger (there was no lightning yet).
There was this tiny bit of humanness that we shared in that moment, this acknowledgment that, like it or not, we were both vulnerable beings.
(In case you were worried, we all made it home safely.)
This experience reminded me of thoughts I've come across and had on my own before - thoughts of a different type of reality.
In this reality, we wear our fears on our sleeves. Or on a hat. Or scribbled on slip-over-the-shoulder angel wings. Or pinned on a sweatshirt.
In this reality, every person has one fear or hardship they are currently experiencing written somewhere on them - somewhere visible for every passerby.
So when you get your drink from the barista, you might notice that her shirt says "couldn't sleep last night due to pain". Think about it - would you be a bit more patient with her if you knew that?
And today, that nasty co-worker - written down her leggings are the words, "I'm terrified of being seen as weird", and on the other leg, "So I'm not going to let you see me at all". You still might think she's a bitch, but would knowing that help you feel any more compassion towards her?
For many reasons, this type of reality probably won't ever take off. Something tells me it wouldn't be very popular.
But you don't need those signs posted on everyone to know that they are afraid of something.
Every human being, no matter how strong they seem on the outside, has fears on the inside. Those fears materialize in different ways - shutting down, lashing out, anger, anxiety, fatigue, sometimes even power ... so many of the behaviors you see in your fellow humans.
Whatever your fears may be, they are materializing in your thoughts and behaviors too - creating the tiniest of shifts in your mood and behavior each day.
At this point, I don't even want to discuss "fixing" it all. I just want us to acknowledge it.
Always begin with awareness.
For now, it's totally cool to keep those fears a secret. What I don't want kept secret is the fact that you have fears. That I have fears. That every single one of us has fears.
Take a full breath.
Acknowledging this, perhaps you could go about your day with a bit more compassion - not only for others, but for yourself?
It's a scary place out there (and in here).