Fighting Fear

By Cila Warncke

Essay

“The thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear,” wrote Michel de Montaigne. Several centuries later Franklin Roosevelt rephrased the sentiment as: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

They lived in dangerous times. Montaigne’s contemporaries were lucky to reach the age of five-and-thirty. Roosevelt was speaking from the depths of the Great Depression. Fear, one could argue, was a legitimate emotion. Yet they diagnosed it as a greater threat than any material problems. Roosevelt condemned the, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” While Montaigne observes that, “many people… impatient of the perpetual alarms of fear, have hanged or drowned themselves, or dashed themselves to pieces, [giving] us sufficiently to understand that fear is more importunate and insupportable than death itself.” Look at it like that and fear diminishes from a bona fide ghost into a Scooby Doo baddy shaking his limbs beneath a threadbare white sheet. So why do we still hide under the bed when fear skulks into the room?

We were – what’s the name for it – a couple.  But we didn’t need to declare it.  Then a letter stamped with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services seal arrived.  Their declaration, in impressive bold type, was that Cecile’s visa terms had changed and no option of renewal would be available to her, under the circumstances.  We were to think heightened security.  Cecile would be obligated to return to her native France, having been away for a decade.

Encouraged to act the patriot, I still had the blessing of choice.  I questioned what was keeping me at my current job and whether the desk and computer I had there required my presence each morning for the years and decades to come.  I bought language tapes.  I waffled on the value of proximity to old friends.  I measured my bravado against Jean-Paul Belmondo.  I posted a classified ad for my television and my car.  I tried to cherish ice water, side dishes and wide-open spaces.  I culled my savings.  I officially declared us a couple, though not to anyone else but Cecile.  I followed her.