Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Born to Fear

I keep coming back to fear.

Teaching post-9/11 fiction puts me in a position to discover fear written all over the face of literature and to think about why that is. E.L. Doctorow once said that doubt is the greatest stabilizer of humanity, and I loved that. But if doubt is what stabilizes us, it must be fear that destabilizes.

Until a few years ago, fear was the catalyst for most decisions I made. It was the internal mechanism that became the shaper of some of the most intricate parts of my identity. School, career, fashion, and even relationship choices were little more than sediment rising to the top of my constant trepidation. From dyeing my blonde hair brown when I interviewed at an Ivy League institution because I feared my intellectual capacity would be measured by the shade of my locks, to pressing my hand to the outside of each airplane I boarded while saying a quick prayer for God's protection over the plane--my distress over things I could never possibly control became the common denominator for nearly every life decision made. I consistently settled into relationships where I was certain that I loved my partner less than he loved me, thereby mitigating the fear of losing someone I could not live without.

It takes many years to realize that each decision made with fear slices away pieces of one's life. Living without fear, on the other hand, is liberating. Of course I'm not the first to recognize this. But the first time I felt it, it was like the world had come undone in a way that made it mine.

They can all go fuck themselves.

And suddenly I was me, perhaps for the first time. I've lived, over the last so many years, fearlessly for the most part. My decisions have been rooted in the part of me that is brazen and undisguised. But the past year a new kind of fear has taken root. Every other breath I take is cut short by a sensation of fear that has become my new normal.

No one told me it was going to be like this.

This: being a mother. The sensation of fierce and primal love for my son. The fear that an imperfect world might put its claws into him. The fear that I could one day lose him. The persistent threat of his absence. The fear is new and untapped. Vigorous. It reveals itself in tears in some moments. I could not have known the vulnerability that would necessarily accompany the moments, days, and years following childbirth. A woman's strongest moment gives birth to her deepest vulnerabilities.

Is this what my mother felt each time she gave birth? Vulnerabilities multiplying exponentially? 

And I cannot help thinking: I was so strong before this. I could afford to be reckless. I have much to learn about being a mother. But the biggest challenge, I suspect, will be to protect my son from my trepidation. Fear is learned. We pass it down to each subsequent generation, a most resilient heirloom. As much as it hurts, I'd like to keep this for myself. My son, empty-handed in this regard--it would give me joy.

*Image Above: Kandinsky, "Dunaberg" (1909)

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