When I was a child, there was a fifteen meter wall the area kids would climb atop by scrambling up the Banyan tree besides the brick and concrete. From a branch above the wall, an old fire hose was tied with a knot and loop at the end of the hose. I’d put a foot into the loop and jump off the wall, swinging down and away, twisting and turning. The pendulum arc would return to the wall and holding tight, I’d squat down, extending my arms out creating an almost jackknife so my feet would hit the wall first. Knees bent, I’d push off again hard as I could to swing back out, back and forth, until the energy dissipated and then removing my foot from the loop, let go and drop six feet or so to the sandy ground. Exciting but not frightening.
Once I was in a car accident, driving from Jacksonville, Florida to Miami. Just a half hour from home, tired, I lost control of the car, I overcorrected and slammed into a concrete jersey barrier in the center of the freeway. The estimated speed was well over a hundred miles per hour according to the responding police. I recall looking at the wall and thinking I was about to die. I wasn’t afraid.
I went to war twice and fear became my friend. I learned to keep it close and created a home for it in a crevice of my awareness. I didn’t think about it much, fear was just something there to remind me to pay attention. Fear didn’t bother me much.
Tonight I’m in Phoenix, Arizona. My six month old daughter is at home and I’m afraid in a way I’ve never know before. I’m afraid that the cold she has will worsen to something where she can’t breathe and she won’t wake up in the morning. I’m afraid every moment that I’m away from her that something will keep me from returning to her or something will happen to her before I get home. When I’m home, and she sleeps, I’m afraid. When I’m driving and she is behind me in the car seat and falls asleep and I can’t see or hear her, I’m afraid. I can manage the fear. I can remember how to acknowledge it and guide it to its own place in my consciousness but I can’t shake the constant feeling of impending disaster. The fear I have over this tiny life that is mine to protect. This is being a parent, a chronic state of fear.