Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 23, 2010

Perspectives: I hope to live with fear

I suspect that what I have to share is universal and normal; except that when it happens to any one of us we feel anything but ordinary.

Sometimes I get scared and anxiously fearful. There are times of the year when my anxiety is predictable or even seasonal. Each year as the Jewish High Holy Days approach I feel a heightened performance anxiety. It begins at least a month before the holidays and seems to dissipate within a week afterwards.

I understand its underlying factors of authenticity, judgment and self-doubt. But sometimes I feel anxious, fearful and incredibly insecure even when all the evidence — when I muster enough courage to examine it — tells me that things are OK; not perfect and not guaranteed forever, but alright for right now.

I worry about events and conditions I cannot control, like long-term economic security, job security and the health and longevity of loved ones. And sometimes it is paralyzing.

I am sure some of this has to do with my aging and background, and some is about transitioning from a very active and engaged lifestyle to a less hectic and more contemplative life. By choice I am pursuing fewer opportunities to work and more time to be with Shirley and family and friends. The pure joy of reading a book (with no serious thought about how I might use it in a class or sermon) is new for me.

Recently I sat with friends and shared my fears and the accompanying frustrations. They know me both as a professional and as a puzzled person living with the same mysteries and uncertainties each of us must have if we strive to be fully conscious.

In the give and take of caring, Mike asked the question that resonates even now throughout my body and deep into my soul: "Are you trying to control life or to cope with it? If control is your goal, frustration and even depression will be the result. But, if you want to learn better how to cope there are lots of ways; and there will still be pain because you are alive and life ain't perfect?"

A few days after our conversation my reading led me to a remark attributed to Nelson Mandela who has certainly known fear, life and death fear, in his life.

Mandela said, "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

On a daily basis you and I engage in the greater world directly and indirectly. We make calls with some apprehension about what the response may be at the other end and we choose to engage with others face to face. We choose to get out of bed and to face a world in which little is guaranteed and much is either assumed or anticipated.

Sometimes, just because we are alive, thinking and feeling, fear is a real part of our lives.

There are some who suggest that fear is little more than "Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real." Their explanation is overly simplistic and incredibly insensitive.

David M. Burns, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, has written: Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person."

We humans have fears that protect us from real danger, and we have fears whose origins may be very murky. I do not think it possible to live a life without some fear because life comes with truly fearful issues. My personal ambition is to know the difference between real and imagined fear and to face what must be faced … and to live as fully as possible surrounded by others who understand and to rise from their beds daily.

Albert Micah Lewis is rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City. His latest book is "Soul Sounds, Reflections on Life." For past Perspective columns, written by area religious leaders, log on to

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