Love and Fear

     If you drop a pebble into a quiet pool of water, the concentric rings flow outward from the center, gently touching everything in their path. That is love's all-encompassing search of inclusivity, which goes from the strongest, most pronounced bond in the center to increasingly weaker and fainter bonds the farther from the center the outer-most ring travels, even as it includes ever more within its circumference.
     To understand the ripples of love in human terms, consider an extended family. The strongest bond is between a husband and wife, then between parents and their children. As the family grows, the bonds between the children, the children and their grandparents, the various aunts and uncles, their first, second, and third cousins become progressively weaker as relationships become more distant with the increasing size of the family. And then there is the continual inclusion of marriage partners from hitherto unrelated families. Beyond the extended family, love becomes a generalized ideal that includes all of humanity (agape love in the Christian sense), then our non-human relatives (the love of all life), and finally the Earth and the University (the all-inclusive love of Creation).
     Fear, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of love—a shrinking within, rather than an expanding without. In its most generalized form, fear encompasses the uncertainty of life, beginning with limitless space, as exemplified by the following story:
     During my college years, I spent many Saturdays taking children from the Farm Home on nature walks. The Farm Home was a facility for children whom the court had taken away from their abusive parents.
     One warm summer's afternoon, I saw a little boy of seven sitting by himself on the steps to one of the group houses. He looked so small and lost as he sat there quietly crying, that I sat down beside him.

     "What's the matter?" I asked gently.
     "I miss my daddy," came his reply, "and I want to go home."
     "How," I asked in astonishment, "can you miss your daddy when he beat you so badly that he bruised you all over and broke your arm?"
     He look at me for a long time with moist, frightened eyes, as though sizing me up to see it he would be safe in expressing his feelings. Then, with quivering chin, he said, "I guess it's because I always know what to expect."

     It took several years for me to fully understand what that frightened, lonely, little boy had to teach, and when the lesson became clear, it was in a totally unexpected way.
     I was working in the "Brown's Hole Country" of northwestern Colorado, which is flat, open, and in some places devoid of human dimension in every direction as far as the eye can see. One day, I came across an old ranch house, which, long abandoned and weathered by time, squatted tired and rickety in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by seemingly limitless space. "What," I wondered as I drove over to the house, parked my vehicle, and got out, "would induce anyone to live here?"
     Only when I stepped out of the pickup did I even notice the one-rail fence and small, creaky gate that surrounded the faded building with its haunting, glassless windows. Although I thought nothing of the fence as I approached the gate, once through the gate, I had a totally different sense about the house—almost a feeling of welcome, as though protective arms had suddenly been extended around me, but why? Exploring the house held no clue to the cause of this feeling of "security" and "friendliness," and it wasn't until I went back through the gate to get my lunch that I understood. The house had nothing to do with my feeling of welcome and security; it was the presence of the fence!
     While the fence might have kept adult horses and cattle out of the yard in years past, it also defined the yard—and that was the secret. The fence held the vast openness of unending space in abeyance and in so doing gave the people who lived in the house a sense of human scale, of definable proportion within a boundary they could both see and touch. They could, for instance, lean upon the fence rail and contemplate the vastness of space without being directly confronted by it, but only if the fence stood between them and the seeming void of eternity.
     In that moment, it occurred to me that I would have the same feeling of welcome and security within the confines of the fence were it to have a single stand of wire, string, or even a piece of thread, just as long as it was visible, and I could touch it. And suddenly, across the years from somewhere in my distant memory, there came the face of a small seven-year-old boy sitting alone, dejected, and terrified on the steps of an alien house in an unknown and frightening world.
     Then and there I understood what he had meant when he said that he missed his daddy because he always knew what to expect. Always knowing what to expect was his fence, the one inside of which he had learned to cope with life in his own, personal scale. But outside that fence of known expectations, where no one would beat him, loomed an unknown world so vast and frightening that the abuse he expected to suffer at the hands of his drunken father became his sense of human scale, of definable proportion. In short, the abuse he always knew would come—that he could always count on—was, in a surreal way, his sense of "security" (his fence) against the larger terror of the unknown, where the enemy was the "unknown" that had neither form nor face nor substance.
     So it is that fear causes us to shrink within, letting go the bonds of love, to become increasingly self-centered in our search for outer security, which, of course, does not exist. Beyond the fear of dimensionless space comes the fear of non-human lifeforms, of our own kind, of heights, of enclosed spaces, of illness, of what others might think of us, and finally of everything life contains—especially uncertainty, and ultimately death. This most self-limiting fear holds within its vise-like grip not only the agoraphobic who is simultaneously a hypochondriac but also the despotic tyrant.
     The irony is that love and fear are merely shades of the same dynamic, our human emotions. Nevertheless, by our choices, we create an almost irreconcilable dichotomy in our minds between fear and love:

Where love reaches out, fear shrinks within.

Where love gives, fear takes.

Where love sees, fear is blind.

Where love believes, fear doubts.

Where love understands, fear comprehends not.

Where love learns and grows, fear holds fast to ignorance.

Where love accepts, fear resists.

Where love is patience, fear is restless.

Where love risks, fear withdraws.

Where love is clam, fear is agitated.

Where love is content, fear can never acquire enough.

Where love holds lightly, fear clings in desperation.

Where love is self-knowledge and self-mastery, fear knows not itself and is out of control.

Where love is rational, fear is irrational.

Where love knows it can choose, fear is a fatalist.

Where love sets free, fear owns.

Where love is free and cannot be purchased, fear has a price.

Where love forgives all and lets go, fear carries a grudge and passes it on.

     All this is to say that love and fear are choices. So, which will you choose?

© chris maser 2003. All rights reserved.

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