What makes you afraid?

What do you fear? Hardly a week goes by without some report identifying some threat in the food supply. Experts say that terrorist sleeper cells wait quietly, blending into the background until some nefarious command sets a deadly plan into action. Physicians are certain that given global travel, the question of a deadly worldwide epidemic is not whether, but when. The 2008-2009 financial crisis wiped out a third of my (already insufficient) retirement account. Airport security removes all liquids from carry-on luggage that are in more than 3 oz containers. Except for bottles marked “saline solution,” which can be carried in 12 oz containers, though the liquid itself can be anything because it’s never checked. One journalist, to prove that airport security would fail to catch any but the most stupid terrorist carried two 12 oz bottles labeled “saline solution.” When asked by the TSA agent why he was carrying two, he replied, “Two eyes.” They let him through.

Still, these are not the things that I fear. More than anything I fear that my family will be fragmented with unresolved tensions, many due to my foolishness or wickedness as a parent. I fear growing old, becoming a burden so that my final years are a return to infancy. I fear loving the biblical Story so much, in all the ways it satisfies my yearning for meaning and truth and beauty, that I fail to simply love God. I fear the myriad regrets from my past will strangle my ability to fully know and demonstrate grace. I fear my introversion will keep me from deepening relationships I hold dear. I fear these things happening and being aware of it too late to make any difference.

Does everyone harbor secret fears, or am I alone? If someone says they have none, am I being cynical if I don’t believe them?

I find that reason does little to dislodge fear. Unhurried conversations, meals in safe places, trusted fellow pilgrims, the quiet beauty of art, metaphor, and story—these are stronger cures. In those precious moments, I am at home in the deeper reality J. R. R. Tolkien evokes so brilliantly in poetry.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.


“The Things He Carried: the idiocy of airline security” by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic (November 2008) p. 100-104.