I have spent four years writing my debut memoir. One of the themes in the book is real versus imagined fear.
We live in a world—well actually this could be said of any time period in history—of potential threats. Threats like a wild animal attacking your tribe, a rival gang coming for retribution, that guy in the white utility punching the air with his fist and cursing you for cutting in on him, will he get out of the car at the next set of traffic lights, are you in danger? What of cancer, the ‘Big C,’ just our existence is like playing Russian roulette every day. Will I get through today without a symptom appearing? What’s that lump in my armpit? Will my blood test results show there is inflammation in my body? What would the kids do without me?
So many fears are real and so many are imagined. Well, that’s how we like to word it, but I don’t think that’s correct. All fear is real. It is real to the person who is frightened. It’s what’s causing the fear that is either real or imagined. But how do we know if we are imagining it, when we are surrounded by actual threats on a daily basis? This is a massive issue I do not hear anyone talking about. But that’s me; I’m always discussing issues that are off the radar. I like to get my hands dirty with topics that are often avoided. Fear of the unknown, based on the ‘known,’ is one of these topics.
I was at Manly Beach last weekend. I spent three hours on the sand watching my child with eagle eyes as she frolicked near the shore, trying out her new boogie board. The seas began to rage and for the first time in my life, I saw lifeguards who looked uneasy as they blew whistles, made announcements over the loud speaker and paddled out watching people swim, as the waves increased in size. Dark clouds bellowed over the horizon as lightning flashes chased them from behind. Even from a distance, the storm looked formidable so we started to pack up, but I just wanted to photograph one particular spot where the waves crashed in an unusual manner. I left my daughter with my husband and wandered off, climbing over rocks as waves crashed just meters from me. A lifeguard paddled past me with powerful intent, both arms synchronized in the same motion, pushing into the waves as he cut through the water with determination. A jet ski followed, flying by. It had a tow float on the rear where another lifeguard hung on for dear life as he became airborne from the speed and surging water. I looked in the direction they were headed, Cabbage Tree Bay, my favorite freediving spot; I was diving in those waters just the week before. The water was clear and welcoming then, but the ocean’s temperament had turned to angry gloom, waves were flicking and spitting in a foul, blackened temper. I felt fear when I had previously felt safe.
A group gathered on the distant sand of Shelly Beach, I took a photo and zoomed in on the resulting image, squinting at the screen on the back of my camera to try to work out what was going on. A scuba diver was lying on the shore, surrounded by people who look like they were performing CPR. My heart crashed and my stomach rose with a nauseating motion. Was I watching someone die? I felt powerless and overwhelmed with sorrow. An ambulance raced along the Manly Beach foreshore, and up Bower Street, sirens screaming and lights blazing. Moments later, another ambulance, followed by yet another. A helicopter appeared in the distance, it came closer and closer, appearing larger and larger before the mottled grey clouds. It started circling above the water, and above me. It must me a search and rescue chopper. Oh my goodness, was someone lost in the sea? Was there a person at the bottom of the bay, lost, alone, drowned, in the darkness, unable to know they were lost, unable to be found? I scoured the water; the surface looked like an angry black monster, gripping upward to take anyone into its watery lair. Another helicopter appeared, circulating higher as the other spiraled lower. My heart was in a panic, a real person was lying on the sand as the ambulance crew took over and carried him to the van. A real person was lost in the ocean, with no support, they were not being carried or cared for, they were alone and at what point would they die? Did they drown an hour ago, or a minute ago, could anyone have foreseen this? What could we do?
My bottom lip trembled; I bit it steadily and swallowed the lump in my throat that was trying to make me cry. The ambulance left, the helicopters too. No one was retrieved from the ocean. All was lost. Fear was real.
I checked the news when I returned home. A scuba diver had been in trouble at Cabbage Tree Bay, possibly a heart attack. It was initially thought there was another diver lost in the ocean, but that’s since been corrected. There was no second person lost in the bay.
I was torn, grieving for the scuba diver, hoping he’d be OK, and relieved that there was no second person in the water. But I saw him there, alone, not breathing, slowly swaying from side to side as the waves raged above. I had grieved him, but he was not real.
It really rattled me, to have fear, to have real reason for fear. To have real danger and risk on one hand, and none at all on the other, except fear based on the risk we already know.
Fear. Is it real or imagined? Is it right or wrong? Should it grip us or should we fight it off? Do we even have any control over it?
It is an entity of its own accord; fear will live and breathe itself in and out of existence. It’s a friend and an enemy. It can protect and harm us. Fear, has been part of my
life for so long, I almost don’t know how to live without it.