The Fear of Fear.
Fear of Fear
One of former American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s most remembered remarks was delivered during his first Inaugural Speech. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he stated.
I never really knew what he was talking about when we first encountered this phrase in grammar school. But then I was born some years after the great depression and did not know the visceral fear that millions of Americans had of going hungry or being evicted from their homes or their farms.
We grew up in a modest blue-collar neighborhood in South Buffalo, N.Y. where most of the families had at least subsistence levels of income. The Social Register didn’t pack in too many enrollees from our part of town, but we managed to get by okay.
And we all certainly knew about various levels of fear. The local bank was a source of dread. They held the mortgages on our homes and had the power to put us out into the streets. Employers held the same power. Only the foolhardy needlessly antagonized them. If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat.
But at the urchin’s levels, we pretty much escaped these basic fears of homelessness and want. America had learned to feed her own and the bounty of her granary was a seemingly unending cornucopia of riches that fed the world.
But there were bugaboos that bothered even the most stout of heart of us amidst the ranks of people less than five feet tall for whom the real and the surreal often merged seamlessly. As a child, it was the unknown that I feared most. The dusky penumbra, of what might be lurking in the dark, is what raised the hackles on my neck. Did that shadow just become darker and deeper? Did it move? What is that noise which whispers hissingly along, like some stealthy movement? Who or what is looking out from the depths of that shadowy pool of darkness?
It was the unlit attic that scared us most. Rarely did any of us feel brave enough to walk up that last flight of stairs into the darkened interior of what lay above us. Who knew what had taken possession of that space in the hours before twilight? Even looking at the attic door, brought a tremor of apprehension to me as I walked by. Could a mysterious hand whisk out from behind the door and drag me aloft? Who knew?
The basement was also a place of murky insecurity. Even though our house was filled with people, who knew what lay in the stygian blackness of the far corners of that dusky recess of the house? Who wanted to know? Not me!
And there was the vast blackness of the night itself. We just knew that all manner of werewolves, vampires and other assorted monsters roamed in the diminished light of the world around us. We told each other tales of the various monsters, ghosts and other denizens of the night who roamed around us. We all had heard tales of someone who knew someone who had a cousin who had seen one of the scarifying visions and dropped dead like a stone. Sunlight was a welcoming lifeline for us to roam the out of doors. The night was left for other things.
And how do I feel now, after having survived the many things that I heard go “bump in the night?” I live in a condo, with no attic or basement, but I never go outside after sunset. Who wants to know what’s really out there? Not me.
Joseph Xavier Martin