When I was a kid, I had an overactive imagination, much worse than I do now. That, coupled with my father’s propensity to watch horrific sci-fi movies about zombies and their messy dining habits, vampires and their blood-drawing techniques, and deranged men with an enthusiasm for shotguns, I very rarely slept an entire night through. I remember having a dream specifically where there were monsters eating my room. Eating the walls, the carpet, eating time itself and leaving nothing but blackness. My brother, we shared bunk beds at the time like most siblings of the same gender do in their youth, was on the top bunk, the bunk reserved for the higher class, and I could see his mattress shaking and vibrating as these little fuzzy world-eaters made it to him. And the worst part, the worst part of any nightmare, is that I couldn’t move and therefore couldn’t do anything. I was helpless. In all of my worst dreams, I am helpless.
I’ve never been a big fan of horror movies. I say that, but I admit that I am a huge Stephen King fan. Of all the books he’s written, over sixty at this point, I think, there are only a handful that I have not read. Not only do I like Stephen King but I’m constantly on an active campaign to convince my literary friends that there is immense merit to his writing, even his bizarre stories about a scary ghost clown or a car that comes to life. I will watch and read Stephen King with the same enthusiasm that I watch and read The Great Gatsby or Slaughterhouse Five, but I avoid as best I can, movies about mindless violence or torture, movies that star monsters or maniacs that slash, movies that star creative forms of torture. And I think the reason is those movies, the ones where a group of teenagers are being chased through the woods or a creepy little puppet wants to play a game, is because they demonstrate my greatest fear as a child: being helpless. Stephen King, on the other hand, does have those scary moments but the characters are realistic enough to do something about it. In the book, The Stand, for those of who don’t know, the world’s population is crippled by a man-made virus and those that are left in the world separate into two encampments. One good, one evil. One is led by a demonic persona called The Dark Man and the other is led by an old black woman who preaches God’s divine message. And despite the scary and horrific things that The Dark Man on the side of evil does, no matter how much he tries to intimidate them, the people who worship God and create a community based on his message, still fight back against the evil, fight back against their fears, and triumph over that evil.
The message is the same throughout all of Stephen King’s work. It’s about overcoming helplessness and facing the fears that threaten you. So I’ve always found those other movies, where the victims are helpless and the monsters are unstoppable, unrealistically horrible.
So those were the things that I feared as a child, those movie monsters and horrific succubae and incubi and devils that I couldn’t name nor fight because I was a helpless child. How does that compare to my fears as an adult?
I have to tell you that not much has changed. I still find myself terrified for no other reason than my paranoia getting the best of me, but the face of the monsters have changed. Since meeting Brooke and finding out that we’re having a child in October, I’ve become an even bigger terrified baby than I was before only because now that I’m older, I know what real horrors exist and I have even more to lose. I fear mad men who have lost all human empathy and are set to do harm to my loved ones. I’m afraid of a bad driver possibly hitting Brooke’s car because it seems that Fort Scott might have some of the worst drivers either of us has ever seen. I’m afraid of distant and faceless terrorists hurting us or those we love. I’m afraid of the world becoming a place of hate for my daughter. I’m afraid for the economy and my place in it. I’m afraid of not being able to provide for my wife and child. I’m afraid that Brownback will bankrupt this state to the point where schools will shut down and both my wife and I will be out of a job, out of our house, out of our home. I’m afraid something will happen to my dogs, or that their life spans will not go on forever.
The things that terrified me as a child seem more trivial now compared to these real fears that all of us face. The only reason I’m afraid of death now as an adult is because it means that I would miss out on a life with my wife and daughter and because I won’t be able to provide . Sometimes I feel just as helpless as I did in that dream with the monsters eating everything. Sometimes I still get the urge to run through the cavernous shadows towards my parents’ bedroom when a grotesque dream has ruined sleep for the night. But then I remember that I live twenty minutes away and my wife would think its weird.
But I’m not helpless. I think being helpless is kind of a rare thing. The hippie writer, Ambrose Redmoon, wrote “ “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.” Fear is just an idea, a moment of hesitation that can be crippling if you let it consume you. But we are all capable of courage. We are all capable of overcoming a fear that threatens us. I would imagine soldiers are constantly coming face to face with their fears, and yet they have the courage to march through and follow orders.
It is not comparable, the things I fear in a day of my life verses that of a soldier, but the message is the same. Yes, I am terrified of what the future holds for my wife, daughter, and I, but if I, or you for that matter, do nothing more with those fears than become helpless, then we have failed.
Fear is nothing more than a call to action, a biological or mental response to things that need to be done or overcome. I feared that my wife and I would be strapped fiscally with a baby on the way and buying a new house, so I got a second job. I’m afraid of the state of the economy and the possibility of schools losing funding, and so I’m following Dave Ramsey to save money in case the worst should happen. Are these fears still prevalent in my life? Absolutely. But I am not helpless to them.
Do I fear a mad man hurting my family? Absolutely. So I watch over them and prepare myself to stand in the way and accept the harm to save them. I always thought it was crazy when people said they would take a bullet for someone else, but now I understand and would do it. Because I fear a life without my wife and child more than I fear losing my own. The fears in my life have grown in congruence with the things I love. And it is our fears that make us as adults realize what is most important to us.
When I pray at night, my wife, Sydney, dogs, family, and friends are at the top of my list, but I also pray that I’m never too helpless to help or defend them. That God would give me strength to face my fears and not let the mental strain of the world ruin who I am as a person. I know that God is there and that he does not give us more burden than we can bear. I fear that he will test me like Job, put my faith to the test and take everything away. But it’s that fear of losing my wife, child, dogs, that makes me realize how incredibly important they are. It’s fear that makes me hold them tighter, love them more, spend more time with them, look into their eyes longer and enjoy the precious moments I have with them.