I was in a bookstore a while back, and my son came over to show me a child’s pop-up book on phobias. I blasted through the king cobra springing ominously off the page. I sneered at the nest of spiders, rising slowly to greet my nose. But then I flipped to an extremely well-crafted page. I was in the middle of a city, suddenly atop a skyscraper, and peering straight-down toward the streets below. Instinctively, I cowered back six inches, lest I…..what? Fall into the book? My son thought it was hilarious. I did, too…sort of.
Truth be known, we all have fears, some rational, as in fear of running out of money in our old age, or fear of finding an inexplicable lump. But, then there are those other fears. What are the chances a king cobra is going to appear from nowhere and plunge its huge fangs into your neck?
#1 Fear: Public-Speaking: Here’s one that many of us share, speaking in front of a vast ocean of people, each one judging YOU. I discovered my fear as a freshman in high school when we had to present oral book reports. Worst of all, they went one-by-one down the row, which really gave you time to spool-up. One girl peed on the floor. Another got sick on the day he was supposed to give his. That was unfortunate because it just put it off a day. I got through it, but…the seed of fear had been deeply planted.
Later, as a green second-lieutenant in the Air Force, my first duty assignment included a formal stand-up briefing (every day) to 75 ranking officers regarding the status of our 18 Titan II missile silos which circled Tucson. Toss me that king cobra…it would have been MUCH easier to face. That old adage about envisioning everyone naked? Doesn’t work. It’s a myth. That first day, everyone in the room knew I was scared and brain-dead. Colonel Northrup, my über boss, was gracious, though. “Nothing fancy, lieutenant, just need to know what’s going on. What’s the status on Site 0-7?” I blurted on the status, limped along…and somehow survived. In that case, as well as many cases of fear, I slowly became desensitized. Now I give lectures. I’m not terrible. I always speak extemporaneously, but it still scares the ever-lovin’ hell out of me until I get up and get rolling.
The Big C: A dear friend (as well as wife of my dear friend) developed cancer in her breast. I cannot comprehend the fear that entails. Candidly, she put the brakes on with the communicating and sadly, I respected those wishes, though it was mostly out of cowardice on my part. I couldn’t handle it, and that’s something which I will always regret, and never forget. Happily, she has now passed her 5 years of remission, though I know the spectre will always be there. I pray that’s the end of it. And if it isn’t, I don’t intend to screw-up this time.
Fear of Death: I’m constantly amazed at how few people seem to fear death. I have several friends who almost seem eager to “graduate” to the next level. I honestly don’t understand it. Personally, I vacillate. Sometimes, I’ll be in a cheerful, though peculiar mood, and I’ll think, “Just take me now. I’m content. I’m relaxed. Go for it.” But then…… I recently went in to have a lump on my face checked. A week later, a nurse called me up…she was very busy…to tell me I had cancer. Then she just hung up. I went right to shock, as did my family. I finally called back. I got my doctor on the phone where he proceeded to tell me that the nurse had actually misspoken. I did not have CANCER, just a small benign tumor. “Not to sweat, Henry,” he said, though I was already out in La La Land. I asked to speak to the nurse where I then proceeded to read her the riot act. You might not think that was appropriate. Perhaps it wasn’t. But I’m hoping she’ll take that extra second to think a moment before calling her next patient.
Abandonment: For me, it started when I was three years old. Mom used to drive in to New York and drop me off with what they called a proxy parent so she could take her piano lessons. At that age, the words didn’t register. I went directly from cow country to bustling Fifth Ave., New York and then…got a stranger for a mom. I was a quiet little kid…don’t even remember if I said anything. I do know I cried. But it happened, over and over and I NEVER got used to it.
The Consequence? Pamela and I have now been together for FORTY-SIX years…and I still have extreme fear of being abandoned. An excellent friend of mine shared a bit of his past one spring night while we were all quaffing up in our tree house in the woods. I learned that he was an orphan from early on, and yet, this man has managed to become the kindest, most sensitive guy you are ever gonna meet. What I’m not sure of is whether it’s because of his history or in spite of it. Guess it doesn’t really matter.
But then… several years ago we flew down to West Palm Beach for a week. Up in our hotel room we had a prime view of the beach. The second day we were there, Pamela screamed. Fourteen floors down on the beach, two pre-teen girls were strolling along, knee-deep, then ankle-deep, knee-deep, then ankle-deep. The largest shark I have ever seen, looked exactly like Jaws, was following along, fifteen feet behind them, dorsal fin slicing the water. We screamed our heads off down those 14 floors. Thankfully, it came out okay. Those two girls just did not go out into the knee-deep water a last time. Irrational paranoia? No. We were there.
That which lurks under the bed: All I can say is this: There is an unwritten rule when you go to bed: Do NOT let your arms dangle down to the floor. It’s really just asking for trouble.
I have personally seen at least four or five movies when the hero or heroine did not follow this simple advice and I can tell you…it’s not pretty. You ask: C’mon Henry, what could possibly be lurking under your bed? There’s only four inches of clearance. Well…king cobras, for one thing, also giant rats, large pancake-shaped aliens, large pancake-shaped werewolves and zombies. Even large pancake-shaped invisible monsters which can materialize into Aliens once they crawl out. Those are the worst. Need I go on???
Alien and Aliens: Never should have watched ’em…though they are…GREAT! Pamela is much more practical (plus she isn’t afraid to let her arms dangle)… but alley ways in the city? A darkened street? She holds on tight. Strangely, I can handle that kind of stuff. She’s right, of course, but it’s a Gal and a Guy thing. You’ll never scare your wife with a sci-fi movie.
Claustrophobia: I think most of us have it to some degree. Some sports cars and most jet fighters have a cockpit that fits really tight. It takes getting used to. But… Pamela takes the cake. On our first date, I chanced to hold her arm…just loosely. Big mistake. Jokingly, I made a handcuff with my thumb and index finger around her wrist. Didn’t even touch skin. Even worse mistake. I don’t think either one of us wants to spend eternity in a slender box where I can’t even turn-over or scratch my nose. Just spread our ashes…but not on a beach, or in New York or on top of a skyscraper or under a bed …sigh.
Cockroaches!!! Actually, these don’t scare me at all. They’re just…really big bugs. They inject no venom, don’t suck blood, and as I understand it, they clean up food particles that drop on the kitchen floor. Sounds like one of those robo-vacuum cleaners, only organic. The only reason I’m posting this shot is Pamela really, really, really HATES cockroaches…and thinks I’m a dummy for carrying a baseball bat when I take-out the garbage at night…to keep the aliens at bay.
Fear of Having to Eat Cat Food (Poverty): My wife, Pamela has it…but so does Oprah, though Oprah has squirreled away an extra fifty million just in case. It’s not logical…but it’s there. I told Pamela that we can always buy tuna fish or hamburger helper or something, but the fear is there. The fear of being in a nursing home and then…running out of $$$$$.
Fear of Making a FOOL of Yourself: They say that, the older you get, the slower you learn. Maybe, but I think a big contributor is: the older you get, the more afraid you get of making a fool or yourself. “C’mon Pop, it’s a new kinda electric boomerang. Try it!” ….that’s okay.
“It’s called Reggae Limbo Salsa: It’s the Rage, honey…please?” ..…that’s okay. Fill in the blank and see if you aren’t hugely guilty of this fun-and- buzz killer….fear of making a fool of yourself. Truth is, you do quite the opposite. Everyone around you actually understands…but they want to see if that little-kid part of you is still alive and kicking. Saying “that’s okay” isn’t okay at all. You miss out on a huge and fun part of life. Yeah, I talk-the-talk…but ask any of my good friends. I think every one of them has a paper bag in their back pocket if things get too bad. Fortunately paper bags are: one size fits all. Life is Short. Doing a dumb thing now and then will only make them love you more.