Mysteriously, airplane accidents seem to occur in sets of three. When I hear about a crash, I wait, along with the rest of you, for the next plane to go down. As fate would often have it, it isn't too much longer until the next two tragedies occur.
What seems to be true for tragedies is also true of much of the trouble that we face in our own lives. We sometimes live lives filled with fear. What will the future hold for our families or us? We wonder what the clouds of gloom and despair will gather around our heads.
I can identify with the sense of foreboding that many face in their daily lives. I know firsthand how fear seizes me and causes me to freeze in the face of a tragedy. Vice-like fingers of fear squeeze us into human prisons where we become incarcerated. We often become mesmerized, very much as the prey of the cobra becomes before the snake strikes.
This paralysis is not just a problem in our new millennium: FDR saw this as a political reality during the Great Depression. He saw how we lose our ability to function in this less than perfect world when fear seizes us. Fear imprisons the spirit. Three-quarters of a century ago, he confidently affirmed, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
However, fear dates back centuries before FDR. In an ancient Persian writing, one finds a parable about fear. Listen to the irony and listen to the message of this ancient story. Once upon a time, there was a servant of a rich man who lived in Susa of Persia. His rich merchant and master sent the servant downtown on an errand early one day. While the servant was winding his way through the crowds and the streets of the town, he suddenly noticed Death in the midst of the multitude. The servant thought that Death gestured to him in a threatening manner. In fear, he fled back to the merchant's home. After he told his master that he must flee from Death, the servant saddled a horse and fled to Samara. As fast as he could ride, he rode off to that city far away from Susa, looking to escape Death and Death's accomplice--Fear.
The merchant, disturbed by Death's running off his servant, returned to the crowded streets where Death was last seen. Finding him quickly, he confronted him openly, "Why did you threaten my servant?" Death denied any threatening gestures toward his servant. Then Death added this ironic twist; "It was I, who was startled, for I, Death, had an appointment with your servant this evening in Samara. I was surprised to find him here in Susa."
The servant, filled with fear, fled as fast as he could to Samara and to his rendezvous with Death. What is true in this ancient Persian parable is true for us in the 21st century. Fear can capture us, and the result is emotional or physical death. Fear causes us to do more to ourselves than fear could ever do to us. It is ironic that fear cannot do anything to us unless we allow it to happen by running off to our Samaras.
Fear is, in the final analysis, impotent except for the power that we mistakenly give to it. Fear causes us to ride madly to our Samaras. If we remain where we are and face fear squarely, we will find that we can take on fear and conquer it. Then, we will discover again that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.