Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Death of Fear

One Life, Many Lifetimes

When I was kid, I wanted to be a hundred things when I grew up. It became a running joke around the house, much of it dependent on the last movie I'd seen or the last book I'd read. When I was eleven, I wanted to be a professional break-dancer, because I'd just seen the movie, "Breakin'". At various times I also wanted to be a professional boxer, professional baseball player, TV commentator, actor, writer, wildlife biologist, radio personality, teacher, or homicide detective. I also wanted to be Indiana Jones, but when I found out he was a professor, I wasn't that interested. Mainly I wanted the whip and the hat. I also wanted to play in the NBA, but I was intuitive enough to know that at 5'6" (until my growth spurt punched me up to 5'9" in Grade 10) with very little athletic ability in the way of jumping or speed, I probably would never be good enough or tall enough.

These days, my dreams haven't changed a whole lot. I still want to be a thousand different things. At thirty-five however, my choices are somewhat limited. For example, I'd be a veteran player in professional baseball, perhaps the most un-athletic of the major sports. Wildlife biologist, well, I'm not sure I have time to go back to school for that one. The same is true for being a homicide detective with a witty repartee and weathered fedora. (On the plus side, Indiana Jones may still be available since Harrison Ford has decided to return to the whip and hat at the age of 87) Sometimes, this gravitational pull towards so many things is not helpful. A number of people my age have already established themselves in one field or another, and I have moments when I wish I wasn't so "spread out", moments when I wish my interests were more limited. It'd be easier, but in the end, it wouldn't be me.

My situation is not uncommon. In our culture today, many of us will hold down four or five positions over our working life. Unlike my parents' generation, who worked many years for the same company, there are very few gold watched being handed out. These days our culture will give us one life; the same as any other generation, because that is all what we humans are given. But it will also give us many lifetimes. And therein lies the rub.

Not everyone is filled with multiple dreams (or such a short attention span) but within all of us lies two or three issues, two or three driving forces or ideals around which our lives coalesce. That is, two or three themes upon which our lives will continually orbit. These themes are the echo of our learning, our childhood, our experiences, our desires, our needs and our hopes, and they manifest themselves consistently, even if we are unaware of what they are. Self-awareness begins when we recognize what these themes are. And once we recognize who we are, we have the ability to mobilize ourselves towards that, which is intrinsic within us. That is, once we know what dance we do best, we know what music to listen for so that the dance matches the music. When that happens, when we have congruency between who we are, and what we are moving towards, we begin to find the contentment that all of us seek.

One life. Many lifetimes.

What fear does, and what makes fear so powerful, is that it tells us that this lifetime, this temporal space of time, be it five months or five years or fifteen years, IS our life. It tells us that if we leave or move from one lifetime to another, even for a minor adjustment such as a job promotion or a change in living quarters, we are in effect dissembling who we are. Fear is a toxic mix of half-truths and bad experiences, locked within a temporal and non-teleogical philosophy (no God, no Ultimate Good). It is, in my estimation, the most insidious of human enemies because it masks itself so easily. It is often difficult to recognize outside the corporal walls of self. (We rarely know when fear is the true motivator behind another's actions, especially when it is well masked within the cores of rationalization and justification).

I mention this because understanding who we are, and moving towards that GRAND goal, is always blocked by one thing. One enemy. And that enemy, is fear. Fear is capable of turning the staunchest defenders of faith and mercy into sword wielding Bible beaters, of turning the most optimistic people into doubters, of arresting the entire lives of a certain individual through one or two reminders of past failures. Like a virus, it spreads both genetically and orally. Many of us act as its carriers without ever realizing it.

And the only way to rid ourselves of it is to understand that so long as we live, we will encounter fear. Every single one of us will at times be afraid. However, it is in those moments, when our hearts beat a little faster, when our stomach clenches, that we must press on and do the thing that fear is telling us NOT to do. (Unless, of course, it's telling you not to walk across a busy four-lane highway with a blindfold on. That's not fear, that's basic intelligence.)

Understand that "Fear" is most vulnerable when it reveals itself physically in us. Every time you take a stand against it -- when you make the call you don't want to make, when you confront the person, when you tell the truth, when you accept the challenge -- your confidence grows. Soon enough you begin to see change in your life, because the things that once stood like roadblocks now look like speed bumps.

One life. Many lifetimes.

The transition from one lifetime to another is sometimes clear. A new job. A break in a long-term relationship. Other times, however, it is more like a long bend in the road instead of a simple fork. Whichever way our life changes doesn't matter, because for those who seek to grow, we will face the same obstacles, the same roadblocks, the same dissidents and proletizers who will work hard to pin us to a single life. They will offer up phrases such as "the real world" or "suck it up" or "that's life" or any other number of word combinations designed to keep you in one square your entire life. It's understandable, because it's easier when everyone knows who we are and what role we're occupying. The goofy uncle. The ultra neat homemaker. The cranky niece. The radical feminist. The crazy dreamer. We label others, and when we do, we label ourselves.

When we label ourselves, we limit ourselves.

One life. Many lifetimes.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be many things. I still do. But whatever I do, I will always be the same man. I will change and I hope to grow, I desperately hope to follow in the footsteps of my Hero and look more like Him. But that doesn't mean I must stay in the same lifetime to echo the life of Jesus. In fact, it probably means that I should be even more open to change -- not only in life, but also in thought and deed -- because what matters isn't the tie or dress or apron I wear at work (my apron is a nice, incandescent green, by the way) but the heart of the life that beats beneath it.

We can dress ourselves up in different clothes or occupations, we can wear the politics of our job or religion so that we look a certain way, but no matter what lifetime we exist in, the life beneath it is the only one that matters. Because that is the life that will touch those around you. That is the life that will make friends and care about others wherever they are. That is the life that will admit its mistakes and humble itself before God and others.

One life. Many lifetimes.

It's easy to lose sight of our purpose in the hectic pace of our society. It's easy to get discouraged by those who seek to pin us down. And it's easy to allow fear to drive us from following the path and passion of what God has called us to. My prayer is that you will begin to live in the present. That no matter where you find yourself, no matter how many changes you go through, no matter how many lifetimes you have lived, that you will not allow fear to stand in your way. But that you will recognize that you have been given one life; a life capable of greatness and humility, of love and honour, and of joy and contentment.