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Last night about 11PM, my wife and I were in bed trying to sleep, when my 16-year-old son, Cedar, walked into our bedroom and yelled, “Dad, didn’t you hear me screaming for you?” Thinking something terrible was happening, like a home invasion or possibly one of the younger kids being hurt, I jumped quickly out of bed. “What’s wrong,” I asked. But he surprised me by saying, “There’s a big snake in the basement!”
I breathed a sigh of relief, and followed him downstairs so he could show me where it was. On the way down, he asked me the most curious question. “Aren’t you going to get your gun?” At first I thought he was joking, but I quickly realized he was serious, so I said, “No son, let’s just get a stick and beat it to death.”
He showed me the snake and it was about 3 feet long. And this is where it gets silly. You see, I’m terrified of snakes. I don’t know why … I just am. It’s silly, because it’s not like they’re poisonous or they can bite my arm off. A few days ago I took the kids to the zoo, and we saw pythons and boa constrictors. Now those … yeah, get me a shotgun with double aught buckshot. But this was just a little guy, so I dispatched him and threw him outside.
And then I got to wondering, why are so many of my fears irrational? I have the same problem with mice. Tiny, little mice. I mean, yeah, it’d be different if they were ROUS’s, you know, from The Princess Bride movie (Rodents of Unusual Size). And then all last night I had nightmares about snakes. I must’ve killed a hundred snakes in my sleep last night, and then I woke up exhausted.
These irrational fears don’t make me feel good about myself. Here I am a Marine vet, firearms instructor, studying martial arts, and I’m terrified of tiny rodents and reptiles. And then I asked myself: What would happen if I conquered my fear? And the answer is obvious; that silly, little mouse or snake wouldn’t stand a chance against me. But while I let my fear dominate, then I let all kinds of weaker things drive me into retreat.
Fear is like that with everyone I think. Especially fears that take root in us as children. We let them grow for decades and end up forgetting how we even got those fears in the first place. Fear is a great motivator, and tyrants use our fear to get their own way. They scare us into giving up without a fight. Putin threatens nuclear war if we don’t let him conquer Ukraine. Robbers threaten our lives if we don’t hand over our wallet. Politicians tell us the world will end if we don’t donate money or vote for them.
I’d like to be able to say I’ve defeated all my fears, but that would be a lie. I don’t think anyone ever does that. We all harbor secret, unconquered fear.
So what’s the point of this story? Well, I think I need to re-evaluate my fears and determine which ones are valid and which ones I need to conquer. And I need to remind myself that just because I have a rational, well-founded fear, doesn’t mean I should automatically surrender myself to it. For example, if a man breaks into my home and is threatening to kill my family, then, well, yes, I would be afraid. But I would fight through my fear and kill him nonetheless.
I think some of us give up too easily. Our fight or flight mechanism is stuck on flight. Somehow, we’ve been convinced that it’s noble and good and wise to always run away from danger. But I don’t think that’s true. Certainly there’s a time for every purpose under heaven. There’s a time to run and a time to make a stand. I think in the end, all of us are defined by our actions. What are we willing to fight for … to die for? I’m reminded of a quote from the movie with Kevin Costner “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.”
Robin Hood is speaking with the Maid Marion.
“I’ve seen knights in armor panic at the first hint of battle. And I’ve seen the lowliest, unarmed squire pull a spear from his own body to defend a dying horse. Nobility is not a birthright. It’s defined by one’s actions.”
One of the nice things about life is we get to define ourselves. And every time we choose to act, or choose not to act, we are defining ourselves, for ill or for good.
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