Fear is Just a Four-Letter Word

Fear; I have accepted a challenge – to face it, and to write about it. As part of the ChicagoNow “Blogapalooz-Hour: Volume VI”, ChicagoNow bloggers were asked to write a post in one hour or less with this as their challenge: “Write about fear, or lack thereof, and the role it has played in any aspect of your life.”

So okay. When I participate in these things, I read the challenge, and then I sit with it a minute and I try to pay attention to what comes to mind. I listen. In this case, I’m listening for my fears. Fun stuff, right?

First thing that comes to my mind is this: the voice of Joan Baez singing … “fear is just a four letter word”. I do love that song, but, huh?

During the 1980’s I worked in Nicaragua. I ran a state-wide organization called the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua (WCCN). The organization still exists, but it’s got a slightly different title now – still using the acronym of WCCN. It was a great organization then, and it still is – does good work in a forward-thinking, life-enriching and empowering way.

Wisconsin and Nicaragua are sister-states. During the 1980’s the Sandinistas were in power in Nicaragua and the U.S. Government was going hay-wire trying to overthrow them. The work I did was to promote people-to-people understanding between the two countries and to promote peace. The Coordinating Council supported projects run by church groups and the UW – and Sister Cities. These became very popular. It was called citizen-diplomacy.

I traveled to Nicaragua frequently. I met with people and traveled around inside the country to learn as much as I could and to photograph projects and help promote and support them. I loved the work and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

Often, when I would talk to people back here they would ask me if I was afraid. They would comment on the fact that there was a war raging and that I was putting myself in danger going to and fro. How did I manage to do it, they wondered; to keep on moving in the face of it?

But I didn’t see it quite like that. I saw a people I knew, and a terribly poor nation trying to find a new way of being – a better way. And I believed in it. That’s what kept me going.

Recently, I’ve thought about the fact that guns were everywhere when I was in Nicaragua. I didn’t think about it much at the time. Really. They were part of the environment, and I accepted it.

But now, every day, when I enter my workplace I am confronted at every door by stickers showing a graphic of a handgun crossed out by a big red “NO” symbol. I feel these stickers as an assault. They are a constant reminder of the threat of violence we live within. During my time in Nicaragua, the guns were never pointed AT me. And bizarre as it seems to say so, I didn’t feel their violent potential.

But these stickers on the doors are different. They are evidence of the possibility for unexpected violence. And they are also evidence of paralysis – the inability to act. The stickers are there entirely because as a nation we are nuts about guns and unable to confront this; cowed by bullies and twisted thought, and living with numbing fear.

When the war in Nicaragua ended, there were ceremonies to destroy guns; symbolic gestures that the country was committed to moving on. Today, Nicaragua is promoting tourism. President Jimmy Carter and his family vacationed there for the new year, and the country is considered safe.

In the years since, I’ve periodically been spurred to consider my understandings of that time in Nicaragua. I have I tried to puzzle this through. What I’ve come up with is that there are things we can and things we can’t know about any situation. And that what is really needed is to continually question and challenge your assumptions. Keep yourself as honest as you can, listen, and keep on going.

On good days, I think that’s how it is with fear. It can be something to push up against and question. A challenge to keep you honest. On bad days of course, it can be numbing. And that’s where that song comes in. Maybe it is just a “four-letter word”, like in the sense of sticks and stones. It can’t hurt you unless you let it. Instead, what’s important is to honestly face it; and to keep on moving.


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