By Janice Lindsay, Contributing Writer
When my granddaughter was four, she attended a friend’s birthday party at an outdoor amusement park. Its central feature was a two-story spiraling slide that ended in a ball pit. To get to the top of the slide, children climbed up a rope-ladder tunnel.
The ladder looked scary.
Several times, she climbed the ropes and slid down the slide, apparently fearless. But once, as she climbed, her father, standing below, playfully growled up at her. She said, “Daddy, don’t do that. I’m just a little scared.”
It takes courage to admit to being scared.
I know because, by the time I was school-age, I could not do it. Maybe I absorbed some implied stoicism in the traditional Yankee culture of our Rhode Island village. I don’t remember hearing an adult express fear, even when there was plenty to be fearful about. A cousin of mine recently summed it up: “Suck it up and move on.” Keep your fear to yourself, deal with it, your fears are no worse than anybody else’s.
I remember a song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that became the movie, “The King and I.” The song was popular around the time I turned nine. In the musical, Anna, an English tutor for the capricious, dangerous Siamese king, sings about coping with fear: “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune, and no one will suspect I’m afraid.” Her song says that when she fools others, she also fools herself.
I don’t believe it. Fooling others, sure. Fooling yourself, doesn’t work.
When I was 11, a hurricane that would be devastating approached Rhode Island.
We were then living next to a small cove off Narragansett Bay. Hurricanes were not tracked in those days; they just showed up and surprised people. As the wind roared and the rain poured, the water in the cove began to rise toward our house. I was scared to death.
As the older of two children, I felt it my responsibility to keep my sister, two years younger, from being afraid. We played board games in the living room. Every once in a while, I made up some excuse to leave and peered out the pantry window. The water crept closer and closer. I swallowed my terror, to appear calm for my sister.
It didn’t make me any less afraid.
(We left the house and watched the storm from a neighbor’s on a hill. Our neighborhood flooded, but the houses survived.)
I learned that I could cope with fear, even if I could not conquer it, by keeping my wits about me and concentrating on doing what needed to be done, whatever was appropriate for the situation. Ultimately, having the confidence that I could cope resulted in my being afraid of fewer things.
I think most people on this earth would admit that we live in scary times. There are plenty of things to worry about. Dealing with the pandemic might be the scariest of all, as it can interfere with our ability to address everything else. So we get the vaccine, we wear our masks, we respect physical distance, and we use our hand sanitizer. We cope with the fear by doing what needs to be done, and by getting on with life as best we can.
As John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”
So I saddle up. And I’m not afraid to admit that I’m just a little scared.