The Power of Fear

 In Inspirational

The power of fear is real. It is usually triggered by something true or perceived. Its teeth are sharp. I know, I have felt them. Once its jaws clamped down on me, it was tough to pry them open again in order to release its suffocating grip. At times, the force changed my habits.

Kim’s first grade
           silhouette – May 1959

When I was a little girl, I was afraid of a lot of things—especially the dark. In my reaction to the reality of darkness, hidden corners of my fertile imagination hatched a plethora of bizarre, dangerous images. Ghosts. Monsters. Boogey Men.

I never liked to be sent to the cellar by my mother to retrieve food from the freezer. I suspected that lying in wait near the top of the stairs was one of my three sisters. And sure enough, more often than not, there was a grinning sibling with her fingers on the light switch which controlled the single bare light bulb below. I knew there were mice in the cellar. I was not afraid of the mice. In fact, during my childhood I had several pet white mice. But, the thought of complete darkness and a possible rat skittering over my bare feet ballooned my lungs. Cowering in the dark, I let out a high-pitched shriek. My cry climbed up the stairs as I waited below for help.

         Ames, NY summer pastures

Sometimes, I babysat for a family who lived in an old farmhouse surrounded by acres of open pastures. After I put the toddler to bed, I would tip-toe downstairs, turn on every light in my path to illuminate the nighttime, and then I settled on the couch in the family room. I would press my spine up against the thick upholstery and pray that the child would not rouse.

When the network television station signed off at midnight, I did not turn off the device in the large wooden console. I just stared at the test pattern. As my eyes periodically darted from window to window to monitor the menacing shadows, I pushed my back further into the cushions like an Oscar Mayer Wiener in a bun. The low hum from the television set attempted to signal that I was not alone. But, it was a flimsy warning to any intruder.

Fear didn’t really take hold in earnest until my late husband’s fatal accident. David’s death was real. Losing my partner and having to go forward in the world as a single parent left me feeling vulnerable. Day by day, I worked on regaining my confidence as I pushed away my fears. It was difficult.

Once right after his death, I rented mental space to an irrational fear during a winter ice storm.  I thought the pelting frozen crystals would freeze up our heat pump and render it inoperable. I was sure the children and I would be found frozen to death in the morning. Another time, I illogically feared a scheduled car inspection. I nervously fast forwarded to a need for a new engine… four new tires… and finally a new car. Fear wrote the chapters of both scripts. The power of fear turned those real events into something surreal.

I am one of the crouched figures at the summit of the Zugspitze

In the summer of 1994 after my husband’s passing, I toured Germany for three weeks with my son and daughter. There, away from the familiar borders of home, I pushed myself beyond my own personal boundaries.

During our tour, the three of us took a cable car to the last stop on the highest mountain peak in Germany, the Zugspitze.  The panoramic view of the surrounding Alps was spectacular. After the short aerial ride, we exited and stood on a platform. There before us was one last barrier to reach the eastern summit, 9,718ft above sea level. My children felt no need to make this final hike. But something drew me to the challenge.

Off I marched up the gravel path. When I reached the primitive stone steps, I crouched down low and started crawling on my hands and knees on the rocky trail of Mount Wetterstein. I looked straight ahead and wrapped my right hand around the single metal cable life-line as I inched along. I could not look down. I did not like heights. But, I was determined to reach the summit cross, a replica of the original 1851 structure. And I did!

When I arrived at the summit, I shouted to my children below to take a picture. I needed to memorialize my success and to make sure this was not a dream. I forced my shaking knees to lift up my body so I could stand next to the 28 piece, 14-foot-high gilded iron cross. This was my first step in my renewed battle against the power of fear.

In the years to follow, I made tremendous progress and even started my writing career.  And then, came the pandemic—real and worldwide. For me, all rational thoughts went out the window and a cold wind of fear blew in. Back down the rabbit hole I went. Like dried leaves swirling about on a barren landscape on a dark winter day, fear surrounded me. Exaggerated thoughts of unknown medical consequences, potential transmission dangers, and a population of possibly infected strangers bombarded my mind. In an attempt for some control, I wiped down milk containers before I put the quarts in the refrigerator. I made sure to wear my black leather gloves whenever I reached out of my car window to accept take-out containers. Then, I sanitized them with Clorox wipes before opening. I was a mess.

An intense feeling of fear germinated from my isolation from family and friends. The dark nights fattened my fear beast. The constantly changing news cycles cultivated my suspicions and I started to morph into a different person. Fear had closed its harsh jaws on me once again.

But fortunately, as time went on, more real data evolved. I grew weary of living my life in a shadow of fear. I realized, just like everything else, this too shall pass. And it did. Back into the sunlight I tiptoed like a munchkin skipping out from under a blossom after Dorothy’s house fell on the Wicked Witch of the West. Ding, dong the Covid fear was dead.

Unfortunately, today, I feel a new ocean saturated with fear spilling onto our shores. It ebbs and flows. When the source of the fear is genuine, it can be countered by rational actions. But, when the wellspring originates from self-serving lies, it must be faced head on with truth and courage. These storms toss me around and bruise me. I have little control. But I have to trust that a calm will eventually return and I will sail on and leave fear behind in my wake.

Faith and hope are my warrior companions. Together with them, I work to fight off the power of fear and enjoy my precious life. The undulations of false fear do not deserve my breathing minutes. Am I always successful? Of course not. But, I am getting better as I sail on.







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Showing 2 comments
  • Jeannie

    Wow. That was powerful. Inspiring!

    • Kim K Meredith

      Thank you.

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