The Faces of Fear
by Raymond Carver
Fear of seeing a police car pull into the drive.
Fear of falling asleep at night.
Fear of not falling asleep.
Fear of the past rising up.
Fear of the present taking flight.
Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night.
Fear of electrical storms.
Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek!
Fear of dogs I’ve been told won’t bite.
Fear of anxiety!
Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend.
Fear of running out of money.
Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this.
Fear of psychological profiles.
Fear of being late and fear of arriving before anyone else.
Fear of my children’s handwriting on envelopes.
Fear they’ll die before I do, and I’ll feel guilty.
Fear of having to live with my mother in her old age, and mine.
Fear of confusion.
Fear this day will end on an unhappy note.
Fear of waking up to find you gone.
Fear of not loving and fear of not loving enough.
Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love.
Fear of death.
Fear of living too long.
Fear of death.
I’ve said that.
It happened in a Callanish circle when the invitation was made to name the many faces of fear.
And the story goes like this:
As pen is put to paper, fear becomes tangible. When invited to share what each person has written, one by one, the particular qualities of fear are heard through each distinct voice, laid bare between us, now being shared by all.
The last reader, who embraces her fear so distinctly and utterly, seems to open a door into what could be named as “a space between.”
Instead of passing through this space too quickly, to sustain this state longer than would be common, we choose to elongate the experience by using improvisational sounds from the piano as a way to focus our attention. It feels like something is being transmitted from underneath us, around us, within us—a sense of a non-local place of generativity.
The sounds become a way to clothe this teeming substance that is amongst us. The music becomes a container for this substance to arise more fully, differentiating in each of us, attuning ourselves to timelessness, creating a partnership with it.
And then the music pauses. A fermata. A suspension. A holding. We remain in this space in silence. Inexplicably, we are changed, modulating from one existence to another. What occurs is an indescribable sense of peace among us, as well as a heightened sense of aliveness.
I knew we had come to a point of profound resonance with one another, and one that transfigured the relationship with fear itself.
The words of Irish writer John O’Donohue ring true: “One of the ways of transfiguring the power and presence of your death is to transfigure your fear. ‘Of what am I really afraid?’ Fear is like a fog; it spreads everywhere and falsifies the shape of everything. When you pin it down to that one question, it shrinks back to a proportion that you are able to engage. When you know what is frightening you, you take back the power you had invested in fear. This also separates your fear from the night of the unknown, out of which every fear lives. Fear multiplies in anonymity; it shuns having a name. When you can name your fear, your fear begins to shrink.”
May we continue to receive one another with our steadiness, our very presence, as we lean into what really matters in the end.
Header photo by Corrine Bayley