Although I’ve always been a shy person, especially in unfamiliar social situations, fear never seemed to restrict me. It didn’t complicate the way I navigated through life’s many complexities either. During my youth, when introversion debilitated me the most, I still focused on various goals, methodically working toward their accomplishment without feeling afraid. But as I’ve gotten older, more aware of the world around me and its wide-ranging dangers, I often suffer from a paralyzing dread. Even though I still try to reason with myself while actively pushing that fright aside, its apprehensive presence has increased nonetheless. So now that once marginal worry has become a constant companion, one I must contend with more frequently to overcome my fearfulness.
If there’s any semi-hopeful aspect of this recognition, I think it could be that I’m probably not alone, that a like-minded community might exist. It’s not that I’d ever want anyone else to suffer. Yet if others can relate to this silent struggle, I take comfort in the notion that a possible network may unite our consciousness, making each of us feel less emotionally and physically isolated, perhaps taking action to reshape our world with inclusion and acceptance in mind.
At least for me, I believe that an immense aspect of this fearfulness derives from a number of disheartening sources that affect daily life. Among these components, I see the acceleration of apparent intolerance, the cultural divisiveness that has only deepened over time, continual violence alongside threats of horrific brutality, and the misinformation that continues to flourish today as unfortunate contributors.
Sadly, the world is so much different today than the universe of even a few years ago. Extremist views are now normalized in a manner that terrifies me to no end. Politicians intrude in matters that should be private, handled on an individual basis with only trained experts and close family members as guides. Minorities and members of the most vulnerable populations find themselves caught in the tentacles of terrible games, cruelly politicized for the purpose of accumulating power, their humanity denied.
In reading about these developments, often voraciously absorbing stories that monopolize the news, I feel angry. But I also notice a timidity mingling within these emotions that directly relates to my own fears. Though fury is always a major element in this perplexing mix, intensifying by the second, a kind of self-preservation overshadows that immense outrage, somewhat diluting this key ingredient in the process. That ongoing distress makes me hesitant to leave my house at times, worried I’ll somehow become a target of the endless potential for disaster that continuously swirls in this uncontrollable chaos.
If it were ever possible, I’d love to go back to the days when I was quite fearless, despite my social uncertainties. As a teenager, just entering this new, difficult phase of childhood, I remember waiting to confront a customer who had been stealing from me on my newspaper route without any anxiety over his possible reaction. For a short period, early on Sunday mornings, he skulked over to my bundles on the street corner to cut through the plastic strips and help himself to a paper, free of charge. Over the course of these several weeks, where the crime had become an unmistakable pattern, I’d determined this thief’s identity and made sure to be at my bundles earlier than usual. Quite conveniently, a rock wall just high enough to sit on while also remaining hidden allowed me to await his arrival without detection as he lumbered down the lumpy brick sidewalk, scissors in hand.
I’ll never forget the surprised look on his face when I appeared in front of him, announcing the amount of money that he owed me. Tall, broad, and much stronger than I was as a bespectacled thirteen-year-old girl, this man could have behaved in a violent manner. He might’ve attacked me with those readily available scissors in response to my straightforward demand. I certainly put myself in a precarious situation by confronting someone much bigger than me, capable of causing severe bodily harm early on a Sunday morning, with few, if any, witnesses around.
But such risks never crossed my mind then. I simply felt enraged at the nerve of this customer, stealing the products I so carefully delivered, even accepting a second paper inside his front door as I made my way down the street each week. To make matters worse, he didn’t answer when I’d try to collect from him. Though frustrating, this fact did help me logically determine the culprit.
“Well!” he exclaimed that unforgettable morning as I stood before him on the corner, waiting for my payment. “I could just go down the street and get my paper at the drugstore instead!”
Although I didn’t say a word, I remember thinking that it would be a relief for him to drop off my route, to purchase his paper somewhere else. And, thankfully, after paying me the amount owed, he slithered off to become a former customer of mine. I sometimes wonder if he ever felt ashamed about blatantly stealing from a child. Perhaps I’ve grown too cynical, but I highly doubt he cared, that he even gave this interaction a second thought. Unfortunately, in today’s world, such behavior just doesn’t seem as outrageous anymore either.
My parents were horrified when I came home that morning, entering their bedroom in triumph. They lectured me about what could’ve happened, sternly upset at the dangerous decision I’d made on my own. In retrospect, I understand why they were so angry at me. But at that time, as a young girl who had just become a teenager, their response seemed overbearing, completely oblivious to my whole mission.
“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” my mother exclaimed. “Daddy could’ve gone with you.”
I don’t recall if I ever answered. But I remember thinking that if I’d informed them of my plans beforehand, I would be dependent on my father waking up extra early to be on that corner with me before six in the morning, ready and waiting. The risk of allowing that criminal customer to get away with yet another week of robbery outweighed any caution. Fear had no place in my strategy, just pure determination to stop this thief.
That same righteousness blossomed in the midst of another hazardous situation just a couple of years later during my favorite babysitting job. But unlike the previous circumstances, worry did play a significant role, motivating the split-second decision that I had to make. One evening, as I babysat two little girls, whom I adored, the doorbell rang. When I opened it, a tall, muscular man, exuding massive charm in his bright smile, stood on the porch. He told me that he’d been sent to pick up some furniture.
“Oh, please, please let him in!” the girls excitedly cried out.
Their mother had never told me that someone would be coming over. In addition, I immediately felt suspicious of this strange man, his friendliness seeming quite fraudulent in an undefinable way. So I denied his entrance, telling him he’d have to come back at another time.
That judgment, alongside my instinct to keep the house’s doors locked while babysitting, cost me this job. The children’s mother wrote me a long, infuriated letter, which included expressing the frustration that she and her husband experienced because they couldn’t get inside their home due to my security protocols. I don’t regret those choices, each conscientiously designed to keep the kids in my charge safe and unharmed. Although I didn’t spend much time weighing various fears back then, I knew well enough that dangers did exist, lurking around as serious threats to consider.
When I think about those instances, where I faced potential injury, even life-changing trauma, and prevailed, I’d like to access that boldness within me again at this stage of my life. While the world feels so treacherous these days, courage shouldn’t be overpowered by an immobilizing trepidation of potential jeopardy. In fact, if anything, bravery, the willingness to stand up for what’s morally right, to reject evil and mistreatment of all kinds, matters more than ever.
Although the world’s current state contains frightening tensions, I do feel hopeful that compassion, ethnic, racial, and gender inclusion, in addition to an adherence to the law, which defines our society’s values, will eventually triumph. We will make it through this dark period, a time that contains many optimistic aspects, inspiring signals that reflect an opposition to hatefulness and dangerous extremism as well.
For my part, it’s time to stop letting fear amass so much power, to stand up to intimidating forces that dictate the choices I make. Although age provides greater insight into possible hazards, it should not obliterate the ability to be more daring (within reason) and to live a fulfilling existence. Maybe my shift to deliberate resistance, quite small in the scheme of things, can still contribute to the bigger picture, helping to construct an overall positive culture. Any form of dissent, the most subtle included, may serve to assist in neutralizing these undeniable threats to diminish such harmful divisions. And even though the energy I offer to this promise for a more welcoming, supportive society is modest, the persistent hope of a solitary individual at her keyboard, it represents a massive step forward in overcoming my fearfulness.
For more information about me as well as my work, please visit my website https://alisaburris.com. You can also connect with me on various social media platforms. Thank you for reading!