Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Paralyzed With Fear

A while back, I was out walking and heard a small voice calling out, clearly very distressed. The voice belonged to a 4 yr-old boy who had climbed a woodpile in his backyard and had become stuck. Clinging to the side of the woodpile, he desperately wanted to get back down again but didn't know how, and he was scared.

I wanted to help, only there was a fence between us that I couldn't climb. The woodpile was at the back of his family's yard, and his parents were out of direct eyesight and earshot. Front access to his yard for me was four-block walk around to an entirely different street, one I was not entirely sure I could find even if I'd have felt comfortable leaving the frightened tyke for the time it would have taken to come to his rescue.

That left talking him down. It should have been easy - he was less than a foot above the ground; one short step down would have put him safely on solid footing. The trouble was, clutching onto his perch as tightly as he was, he had no way of seeing down to the ground to know how close he really was. He was convinced he was quite high up and that to let go would be a dangerous move. The strength of his convictions became readily apparent when the volume of his wailing increased each time I tried to persuade him to take the step. Even getting him to calm down enough to talk was tough.

Ultimately, his mother did hear him and came to his rescue herself. I like to think that my presence was somewhat helpful in that it was probably the louder cries resulting from each new attempt of mine to propose grave mortal danger that drew her attention. The whole event makes me wonder sometimes, though, how often we're absolutely sure that a thing cannot be done and that it would be horribly risky to even try... and in that certainty we are more wrong than we can possibly imagine.

Fear is paralyzing. There's no doubt of that. And even when the fear is justified, that kind of paralysis rarely serves us. So what do we do? What steps can we reasonably take to move beyond that fear and closer to, rather than farther from, safety? And is there a way we can teach ourselves to hear and trust the counterintuitive signals that lead us to that safety when so much else around us is screaming Danger?

If you have thoughts on dealing with fear, send them my way; I can be reached at techsurvivor@soaringmountain.com. In the meantime, I'll share some of my own coping mechanisms that I've found to work in upcoming entries.

Sometimes, solid ground is closer than we realize.