OPINION: RUBY: Those Narrow Fellows

·4 min read

Aug. 26—"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Probably Roosevelt's most famous quote, spoken at his inauguration in 1933. His reference was to what we call The Great Depression.

Offhand, I would have attributed it to Winston Churchill, during World War II. But he said "Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision." Perhaps more appropriate in a time of war.

And though war itself was evidently a fear in his life, Churchill did meet it with courage and fortitude and a refusal to back down, even when England's defeat was all but guaranteed by Hitler's bombings.

Fear, we know, is a defense mechanism of the brain to a real or perceived threat. It is an instinctive response that triggers a "fight or flight" reaction in the brain.

Years ago when I worked at Sue Bennett, I wrote an article for their student newspaper titled "Fear and the Dentist." Now that has a long history for me, but to some extent, I still have it.

It is, of course, grounded in a fear of pain. Even though it's been about 50 years since I endured that kind of pain in a dentist's office, I still face those appointments with a dreading anticipation that maybe, this time, I'll have to endure it again.

Probably my other great fear is fear of flying. I always assume the worst: If I get there in one piece, I won't get home the same way.

The first time I flew, by myself, at age 13, I was convinced the plane would run out of gas before we landed. Obviously it didn't.

Years later, the first time my husband and I left our children to go on a trip, I rushed to a lawyer's office and made a Will and guardianship document. My conviction of imminent death was a smokescreen for a responsibility that I should have already fulfilled.

Recently I found letters that I wrote to my children, convinced that another flight would take me permanently away.

Well, fears abound in our lives, but they're different from phobias, which are like fears, but excessive, out of proportion to the actual danger they present.

Well, maybe. Snakes are a danger. Of course, I have seldom actually seen a snake. But if there's one on the road, I aim for it.

Which, of course, is stupid, because the actual danger there is a head-on collision. But who's thinking rationally at that point?

As a child, I resisted looking up words in the dictionary if they appeared on pages that might have a picture of a snake.

As a teenager, I remember walking in the woods at a winter church retreat and loving it. Despite my aversion to the cold. But the ground was snow-covered, and as well as being beautiful, there were — no snakes.

Emily Dickinson's poem "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass" aptly describes a typical reaction to coming upon one in the yard: "But never met this Fellow/Attended or alone/Without a tighter Breathing/And Zero at the Bone."

University of Texas Health says phobias "are among the most common of all mental illnesses . . ." Well, that clinches it, in case you were wondering about the state of mine.

"Specific phobias can keep people from [living] normal lives." I'm not sure what "normal" is in regard to snakes. It is, after all, a common phobia.

Maybe we can thank the biblical story for that. Or maybe the snake is the scapegoat because even ancient man had an aversion to them.

And yes, I know they have some useful purposes, like in a barn on a farm. Makes me wonder if I ever could have fallen in love with a farm boy . . .

If you google fears and phobias on-line, you find an almost limitless list. Just about anything can qualify. There's even fear of adults (I'd call that childhood) and fear of long words (identified by one of the longest words in the dictionary).

I guess the trick is to not let these fears — or phobias — control your life. My fear of the dentist and fear of flying don't prevent me from getting dental care or going on trips. But that phobia — well — don't expect me to accompany you into the reptile house at the zoo or watch when Voldemort slithers into the scene . . .