There are two types of fear: survival and illusory. The former is healthy and helpful while the latter is not. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two.
— Arno Ilgner, The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training For Climbers
Fear is a topic I come to again and again on this blog. And in the last few weeks, fear has been crescendoing – building and building inside me, being echoed and screamed back at me from the Internet, from newspapers, from conversations with everyone I know. Fear has taken us all.
This fear keeps bringing me back in time to a moment. I was 12 years old on September 11th, 2001. I was sitting in my middle school classroom on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when my dad arrived. I was sent back to my desk to gather my things and I laughed when I told my friends why I was going. It seemed too ridiculous to be true.
Fear swept the nation. Fear overtook my city. Fear held my family captive in our apartment as we waited, bridges closed, shut into the city that might implode at any moment.
And then my father did something that changed my life. His response to the fear was to take me to the theater. We would support the arts when everyone else was bunkering down. We saw show after show, letting the world know that we would support the things we held near and dear, despite the fear. My father transformed fear into a spark for action. He willfully sought joy, despite the terror that surrounded us.
His refusal to let fear dictate his behavior has launched me into a life chasing after the unknown. Today I am a rock climber who is scared of heights and still climbs. Today I am writer who doesn’t want to let anyone in and I’m posting. Today I am activist who hates rocking the boat and I’m speaking out.
Sometimes when I am climbing, I can’t force myself to move any farther up the wall. There is a line that I cannot rise above. And yet, I still climb — sometimes traversing, sometimes just climbing to that line and hoping it will vanish, again and again.
My fear of heights has become a marker of my progress. Every time I leap for a hold that I am not sure I will get, every time I fall off the wall trying something new, every time I climb higher than I feel comfortable, I know that I am improving.
Fear has become a spark – for I refuse to let this illusory fear stop me from living a life better than my wildest imaginings.
And so here I am, shaken by the last few weeks in politics, deep in fear. I keep hearing people saying this fear is illusory. But this fear is only illusory if you have nothing to lose. I know that as a white, college-educated, white-collar, non-marriage-seeking, non-abortion-needing person, I will be okay. Despite my minority statuses in other ways – being queer and trans – my rights are unlikely to be infringed upon in a way that makes my life insufferable.
And yet. This fear is survival fear. It is real. There are real-life consequences that, even if we refuse to look at them and see them, will really affect real people’s lives. Our neighbors, our children, our grandparents, our friends, our coworkers – everyone knows someone who will be affected. And if you don’t know someone, now you know me.
This fear, especially for people like me with the privilege to speak out, can be a motivator. It can be a benchmark for progress. It can be the thing that makes us stand up, speak out, refuse to let go of our joy, our voice, our actions.
So what next? Today I donated my money to causes that need support. This week I came out as non-binary at my new job. Today I am sharing my story.
Fear will not stop me from being proud to be an American. Fear will not cause me to claim that this president is not mine (he works for all of us). Fear will instead push me to be the best I can be, support the causes I believe in, and fight like hell for those who need it most.
Join me. Let’s make this survival fear useful.