A question about fear and death

A couple of days ago, I read a post by my friend Paul about a motorbike accident he had recently. In the post he talks about his strong desire to ride again, despite the many reasons there are for him not to. He says,

‘What I’m grappling with here is perhaps a textbook example of the age-old battle between ‘heart and mind.’ No matter how reasonable your argument against, no matter how many statistics you throw at me, no matter how many YouTube videos of unfortunate motorcyclists flicker before my glazed-over eyes, I still want to ride. I just haven’t finished with it yet.’

In the comments that follow the post, our mutual Friend, Louise, suggested that it sounded like Paul should keep riding, since ‘life is not just about avoiding death.’

This line returned to me that night. Susie and I had just finished watching the final episode of Jane Campion’s series ‘Top of the Lake‘ – a series that features a lot of sexual violence towards girls – and as I stood in my girl’s room, looking at the beauty of their sleeping faces, I was struck by how hard it is not to be overwhelmed by my fears for them. How hard it is, to paraphrase Louise, to not make parenting just about protecting your kids from pain and death.

As I’ve said before, one of the aspects of parenting that surprised me the most was the amount of fear it creates – fear that your children will die, or be hurt or abused in some way. And last night I found myself angry (with Jane Campion, of all people) for being yet one more voice conspiring to push this fear into the paralysis zone. I’m not saying that sexual violence, and the abuse of children, is never an appropriate subject for film or television. Todd Solondz’s film ‘Happiness‘ is an example of how the subject can be addressed rather than exploited. What makes me angry is the fact that these days it seems to be a go-to means for triggering horror or representing evil, merely a means to an end. Every paedophile is turned into a monster – just like every Muslim man is currently being turned into a decapitating psychopath – and the fog of fear that surrounds us just gets thicker and thicker.

So I guess what I am trying to work out is how to fight back, to work out how the presence of fear might be an enlivening blessing rather than a crippling curse. To paraphrase my friend Louise, I don’t want parenting to be just about preventing my children’s death. And at the same time I don’t want to shut down either, cut myself off from the reality of their vulnerability and their mortality.

What I am trying to do now is to take a breath. When one of my girls picks up a stick, or starts climbing a wall, I am trying to wait a beat before I shout ‘Stop!’ – time enough, I hope, to reflect on what is really at stake. I certainly don’t want my fear to leave them so risk-averse as adults that they are deaf to the urgings of their hearts, and choose not to pursue even their deepest passions, because of the risks involved. Unless, of course, that passion is motorbiking!

I am also trying, when my fears are triggered, to move from fear to gratitude (rather than just shutting down), remembering that fear of loss is the shadow side of joy, and joy is a sure sign that I have beautiful things in my life – google ‘Brené Brown fear, joy, gratitude and vulnerability’ for more details. I find that this, alongside a concerted effort to ignore the ‘small child horror story’ click bait that now appear in almost every news website, is a pretty effective means of escaping from the old paralysis zone (as opposed to Kenny Loggin’s ‘Danger Zone’ – which is a place that I never ever want to leave!)




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6 Responses to A question about fear and death

    • rodbie says:

      Yes, I thought you might leap to its defence.

    • veryspeedy says:

      Well, I was compelled. Opening up the floodgates of passionate possibility requires we relinquish the desire to quarantine our children from’dubious’ pursuits. Otherwise it’s like someone trying to control how pregnant their partner is – somewhere between a little and a lot?

    • rodbie says:

      I was joking, of course. Though it is interesting, as a parent, to ask yourself what might be beyond the pale for you (when it comes to ‘dubious pursuits’) and why. Have you come across Andrew Solomon? He wrote a book called ‘Far from the tree’ and talks about the vertical (things that go from generation to generation) and the horizontal (ways in which children are different from their parents, and thus need to find a horizontal community for). In his book he interviews a lot of parents who have struggled with ways in which their children are different to them, and the riches that come from ultimately coming to terms with this difference. I’m fascinated to see how these two dimensions play themselves out in my relationship with both my kids. Interested to know your experience of this so far.

    • veryspeedy says:

      I’ve heard the name but haven’t read his work. Is it the same chap who’s done a couple of TED Talks (I think one of them was on depression)? I might check that book out. Thanks!

      And, by the way, I do love that very fluid interplay between my children being a ‘chip off the old block,’ and absolute total strangers. It’s really freaky sometimes, but I admit to thriving on that type of energy.

    • rodbie says:

      Yeah, it’s the same guy. I totally agree with the incredible energy created by the incredible familiar and yet totally mysterious thing. It’s almost like a kind of flow creating polarity (if that makes any sense).

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