People enjoy talking about their accomplishments; how well they did on the stock market, what a great deal they got on a new car, how absolutely brilliant a grandchild has become, but they get a bit nervous if you ask them, "What are you really, really afraid of?" Some will say things, like, "Well, I'm afraid of what's going to happen if we get stuck with any more taxes!" That's not the kind of fear I'm talking about.
When I was still a kid, my older sister hated using the telephone to place an order, or anything other than calling her best friend. She might need something from the drugstore, (they delivered in those days) but some stupefying fear made her unable to make the call and talk to a relative stranger.She would give me a nickle out of her 25 cents weekly allowance if I would do it for her. Since that wasn't my particular fear, I was happy to take her money.
I've always thought it would be fascinating to be a psychiatrist and be able to find the answers to the reasons why people develop debilitating fears that rob them of some of life's greatest pleasures. One thing I would love to be able to do is float on water. Friends have described the simple joy of swimming in a lake at sunset and deciding to relax and float for a while, looking up at the myriad of colors displayed across the sky above them. In my whole life, I've never been able to relax on my back in the water. Once it starts creeping up into my ears and touches my cheeks, I feel sure I am going to submerge and drown, and begin immediately to flay my arms about and push my legs down hard against the water's pressure, trying to give my feet something solid to stand on.
Possibly, my fear of drowning came from an incident when I was a toddler. Mama said she heard my sister scream for help, and ran to find me floating in a sunken goldfish pond, fully clothed in corduroy overalls. I don't recall this frightening accident, but maybe my brain still has it locked up, and when I get in water, the memory surfaces.
The one fear I can't explain is my fear of getting lost. I know that lots of folks say they have this fear, but I seem to be bothered by it more than most. This fear arises a lot on vacations, if I don't know the territory. I once spent a miserable day at the "Mall of America" in Minneapolis. We were with several couples, everyone talking at once, and nothing was settled about where we were all to meet if we became separated. The men went off in one direction while the women were still trying to decide where to start. I began to panic at the thought of getting lost from everyone in that huge place, so I just followed a couple of the women around wherever they wanted to go, rather than going off on my own. I was so afraid they'd leave me, I would even go into a dressing room and try on anything. It sounds ridiculous, but that fear just takes over. Even trips to our new Walmart can be worrisome, especially with my husband. I always say to him, "Now, you take a basket and go get the things you need. I will meet you HERE by Customer Service in 30 minutes." I always get back right on time, and he is seldom there. He means to be, but gets distracted by something down an aisle somewhere, and he figures he'll have enough time to get back where he's supposed to be before I get there. He's not the least bit afraid he'll get lost. So, there I am at X marks the spot and have no idea where to start looking for him. The neighborhood Walmart becomes a giant maze. I remember the store stays open 24 hours, which means I could spend quite a long time looking for him. I could get lost!
One day, I discussed some of my fears with him, and I asked him to tell me honestly what he was afraid of. He was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force for 29 years, so I expected him to say, "Getting shot down over a jungle," or something like that. Instead he thought a minute and said, "High places." Go figure.
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