Neighboring Fear

How has fear become my neighbor? Close enough to be a predictor of behavior, yet distant enough for me to ignore when discomfort arises.

Have you ever experienced a fear so great that it paralyzed you? A fear so magnificent that you felt powerless to respond and instead, you ran? I have. Two weeks ago I learned through an experience that fear not only keeps you from purpose, it keeps you from humanizing. Fear can make us irrational.

Embarrassingly, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to respond to a person’s need and comfort them after something pretty traumatic happened; trauma that I induced. Now, pause the tape. A rational  response by me would have been to provide comfort to a “fellow neighbor” in need, but I didn’t. My feet was so mired in fear, that I irrationally did nothing. Press play. I did nothing. Nothing to comfort. Nothing to support. What I did do repeatedly in the moment was conjure up a myriad of reasons why “not responding to my neighbor” was the best idea. I have sense made amends with that neighbor, but this life experience left me keenly aware of the power fear has to dehumanize others. The more salient lesson is that I am not exempt from such dehumanizing behavior. A humbling and indelibly heart gripping moment which is unforgettable.

Fear is rarely disruptive on the grand stage of life, but it lives in the mundane decisions happening minute by minute. It resides in our decision to ignore the outsider and choose our “known friends” repeatedly. It breathes in our decision to avoid eye contact with the marginalized or homeless. It contaminates our ability to see beyond external, often, superficial differences. Fear comfortably rests in our desire to remain comfortable in this life. No new relationships. No sacrificial giving of time or resources. No need to learn about another’s culture. No need for diversity of perspective or life experience.

As a Black woman, I look forward to the month of February because I’m most hopeful that it will afford me the unique opportunity to enter into conversations with people who are otherwise guarded on conversations of race. Then fear moves into the neighborhood… hello, neighbor…

During Black History Month, one of the most palpable things a non-person of color might fear is a meaningful discussion surrounding racialized systems which privilege some and prohibit others. Fear of being labeled a racist. Fear of not knowing what to say. Fear of saying the wrong thing. All valid concerns, yet, without such discussions, my history becomes dumbed down to a single speech, a rescued slave, or a heroic conductor. This history, my history, LIVES in the fabric of our education system, the socioeconomic strata, and undoubtedly in me. Black History, which is also American History, has somehow been re-categorized as a single month within the year where people of color can liberally speak of and celebrate their story. A story laden with triumph, not just tragedy. Fear supports an ethos of separate, but equal because of it’s irrationality.

Fear and love elicit visceral responses. Fear freezes. Love frees.

– Precious Jones

Vocabulary.com says that something visceral is felt in the gut. A visceral feeling is intuitive – there might not be a rational explanation, but you feel that you know what’s best.

I’m not certain that we can live our lives entirely absent of fear, but, I do believe the more we choose love, the more we’ll find ourselves likely to respond to our neighbors in the way that we desire to be responded to. A personal prayer of mine is to love others well and I am still learning how to do this when fear is pounding on my door, demanding re-entry. How can you evict fear and invite love into your community this February? This year? This lifetime? These are indeed the same questions I am left pondering.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:18 (ESV)

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