Very, Very Frightened

Amy Balmuth

As a kid, I was plagued by anything in the world that had the potential to be scary. Despite a complete lack of impetus to think this way, I refused to believe that the sky wasn’t falling and that everything would be okay.

When I was nine and first learned about HIV/AIDs, I couldn’t sleep because I was convinced I had it. My parents had a hard time explaining that this was quite impossible, and eventually I came around. Even the most innocuous Disney movies made me uneasy; the “feed the birds” woman in “Mary Poppins” instilled a particularly inexplicable fear in me, since I’m pretty sure she was just doing her best to prevent ornithological hunger. It didn’t matter whether the threat was real or imagined; one summer I was staying at my cousins’ house when my little cousin ran into the room screaming “mars attacks! mars attacks!” I asked what she meant and felt the all-too-familiar feeling of my heart sinking into my stomach when my older cousin responded “oh, didn’t you hear? Mars is attacking the Earth!” I was afraid of the tangible, the abstract and the downright bizarre. In seventh grade, I politely abstained from watching “The Crucible” in class because I was spooked by colonial garb and the potential of a witch hunt.

I’m embarrassed to admit that my fears have sometimes gotten the best of me. I never read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and on a family trip to Amsterdam I refused to go to the Anne Frank House. As a young Jewish girl with somewhat curly hair, the resemblance was too eerie for me to pursue further. Thinking about it now, it seems absurd to attribute these feelings to fear, since it seems more like a fundamental misunderstanding of logic than a belief in imminent danger. It was the same misunderstanding of logic that prevented me from processing my fears, choosing instead to do unproductive things like sleeping. For example, when I learned that planes could crash I sat down in my seat and immediately fell asleep because I figured if I had to die in a plane crash, I wanted to die in my sleep. The reason why I would think I could sleep through a plane crash escapes me, as did all quality inflight entertainment I missed during that trip. I skipped the phase where I felt threatened by monsters and goblins, instead responding to the idea of the Apocalypse with sweaty palms and weak knees (though luckily, no vomit on my sweater already (mom’s spaghetti)).

While I hope it’s quite obvious that I’m writing this to be funny, like many Americans, I’ve been afraid this past week. Afraid for the all the people who will suffer post-election, afraid for the Earth — just a general, all-consuming fear that humanity is not where it should be and isn’t going to get there any time soon. Unsurprisingly, I’ve felt less threatened by colonial garb and algebra; I’ve even put dying, unloved on the back burner. Throughout, I’ve been reminding myself that these fears are unproductive. Panicking myself into a state of neutrality will do nothing to change the world. So long as we’re living in a world that’s not a Judd Apatow movie, things will be scary and I will likely be afraid. Burdensome as fears may be, failing to overcome them might bring forth the most fearsome of all: apathy and stasis. Mobilize your fears and feed the birds (tuppence a bag).