• Aarik Danielsen

Whatever I Fear

I want to pinch words from St. Paul, and use them to tell you When I was a child, I feared like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish fears. But my personal paraphrase excuses stubborn truths in the name of keeping cool and clever.


The two sentences I just wrote propose that we outgrow a certain class of fear. Such a construction regards an adult’s worries as more acceptable than a child’s; it takes as gospel the view that childish fears lack knowledge, while grownup fears arise as a right response to understanding.


Truth is, we harbor founded fears at every age. Children live in tune with forces adults mute—and the other way around; the only difference in our worries lies with the sounds we let in.


 
Our bodies fill out; our faces gain character, grow a little weathered. But glance from the right angle and you still see the child, especially behind the eyes. Our fears grow up the same way.
 

Our bodies fill out; our faces gain character, grow a little weathered. But glance from the right angle and you still see the child, especially behind the eyes. Our fears grow up the same way. Swallowing any other line neglects how closely later anxieties resemble their younger selves.


Allow me to try again, stripping my words of judgment. When I was a child, I feared like a child. And my fears were great.


I feared losing sight of my mother in the supermarket;


overlooking the razorblades tucked into my Halloween candy;


losing years inside a kidnapper’s basement;


virtually any scenario punctuated by the phrase “film at 11.”


I feared missing my favorite sitcom and waiting till summer for the rerun;


what my life might sound like if Counting Crows broke up;


failing to create something with staying power;


dying young before the world learned my name.


I feared entering a room where someone might offer me drugs;


saying “yes” to drugs;


saying “no” to drugs;


virtually any scenario tackled in a “very special episode” of my favorite sitcom.


And I feared being left by the rapture;


being raptured before I kissed a girl;


crossing the heavenly threshold, only to grow bored with eternal life and the God waiting there;


fumbling over words to the Sinner’s Prayer until the clock ran out;


stumbling into the unforgivable sin and missing heaven altogether.


With clean staff paper and pen at hand, I might have transposed my fears into notes and rhythms, rests, and time signatures. The songs would resemble DC Talk’s wrinkle-free take on Larry Norman’s Revelation ballad “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Or Michael W. Smith’s piano-driven warning away from apostasy, “I Miss The Way.”


 
When I became a man, I put aside childish fears. Or, at least, my fears matured, growing up and into their changing bodies.
 

These songs did little to drive the fear away. Instead, they shaped me into what one friend later called a “velvet hammer.” Turning my face to fear, I held it close to tamp it down and keep it from sneaking up on me. If I could just sing myself something soft and unflinching, I might sanitize my soul and show myself approved.


When I became a man, I put aside childish fears. Or, at least, my fears matured, growing up and into their changing bodies.


Now I fear doing or not doing something—forgetting the pilot light, foregoing the fine print, missing a car in my blind spot, failing to carry the one—to topple the bricks of someone else’s life.


I fear passing away before reading all the books that might soak my soul in goodness;


leaving this earthly room without thanking every companion who kept me safe and sound;


dying only to know the world will forget my words;


dying and the world knowing exactly who I am.


I fear never catching a day game in Pittsburgh or a nine-inning nightcap in San Francisco;


never trembling beneath the Pacific Northwest’s forests, or knowing the kiss of its mist upon my skin;


never feeling as if I touched the face of God in the land of the living.

I fear my son won’t ever settle into my love;


that someday I will slip behind the veil of anxiety, never emerging again as myself;


that my wife will die before me;


or I will leave her alone with burdens too great to bear.


And I fear someone will hear an Oasis song and think of me, with the word on the street that the fire in my heart is out;


having my suspicions confirmed and learning, in the language of Twin Peaks’ Garland Briggs, that “love is not enough”;


coming to the end of my days too afraid to live, and like Brooks Hatlen, carving “I was here” into some lonely ceiling.


Let me hole up in my room and write melodies for days; they’ll all sound like thinly-veiled covers of songs The National already sing. Hear the whir of nervous energy, senses heightening in time with propulsive rhythms. These songs fear the world’s touch, yet burrow deeper into its blanket; they wish for escape while shutting out every true remedy.


This music exists for moments when my already unsteady baritone becomes a howl to drown out the voice stealing my soul, soul, soul. They supply the soundtrack as I face my fears, only to remember “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out” or that “I can’t sleep / without a little help.”


Certain friends want me to bear my teeth till the fear leaves. But my bark sounds false. And who the hell finds me scary anyhow?


 
I sit down on a Monday night—candlelit and crackling, a finger of bourbon in the glass—and discover new ways to rewrite the old hymn line “fightings within / and fears without.”
 

I picture a class of writers I know, faces inked with disappointment. They treat fear as the four-letter word. Using their vocabulary to push it back, they encourage me to stop writing sad songs and follow their lead. But I sit down on a Monday night—candlelit and crackling, a finger of bourbon in the glass—and discover new ways to rewrite the old hymn line “fightings within / and fears without.”


Paying the invoice of respect I owe, and wishing to imitate these beloved, I gravitate toward different company. The fellowship of the relatively fearful.


My companions acknowledge perfect love drives out fear—but they know fear can make it nearly impossible to experience love’s perfection. They know the angels and scribes repeat “be not afraid” because they’re the hardest holy words to believe. They name their anxieties as an act of faith, praying to see clearly and grant them the exact amount of power they deserve. No more, no less.


Rather than ask me to turn off my fearful songs, they welcome a little background music as we sit down to the table. Sometimes even a heartbreaker seals the fellowship; even a sad-eyed ballad knows how to say grace. One by one, we break our fears like bread and pass around the basket. Chasing each morsel with something like communion wine, we feast together till only traces remain on our tongues.



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