Jessica Sieff: Conquering the itsy, bitsy spider

Published 10:52 pm Thursday, January 27, 2011

In an interview this week, Mark Kelly, the husband of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, said his wife feared being shot at one of the public events she held in order to speak directly with constituents.

jessicaEarlier this month that fear came true when Giffords was shot at point blank range in the head during a public event in Tucson, Ariz.

And while there’s plenty coming out of the story, stories of heroism and inspiration and hope, what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, stemming from that story of Giffords’ worry is the idea of fear.

Despite her, now known, fears, Giffords held her “Congresswoman on the Corner” event Jan. 8 in Tucson anyway.

The author and Rabbi Harold S. Kushner wrote an entire book on the subject called, “Conquering Fear” in 2008, after terrorists terrorized an entire nation in September 2001, and a natural disaster terrorized the entire population of New Orleans, leaving many of us to wonder what would happen if our homes were ever swept away in a maddening occurrence of wind and water.

Fear is a formidable foe.

It changes shape, can be large or small, personal or generalized, rooted in history or surfing the moment.

We fear the big things like mortality and little things like spiders or snakes and that in itself is an example of how strong fear can be.

Something that is as present in death as it is Charlotte and her web is a pretty intimidating thing.

For some, fear is mobile. It makes us move. We’re afraid so we jump out of the fire, keep out of the way and take ourselves out of the fear equation.

For others, it paralyzes us. It keeps us from taking a step forward, from stepping out of the shadows and into the light.

Either way, it polarizes us to one side or the other.

On the sidelines as life continues down the middle.

We simply don’t move from the comfort of our zones.

Often, fear is born out of a tragedy or a happening. Something happens to us we don’t like and we’re scared. Somebody or something threatens us. That which we were certain of becomes uncertain once again.

We feel insecure and unsure. We see a figure in the shadows and the boogeyman takes shape.

Kushner, in discussing the fears of large-scale disasters, explains that when one is looking for faith within the storm it is important to realize that faith (or God, if you will) is not present in the event itself but rather in aftermath.

Faith, he says, is found “in the still, small voice that is almost drowned out in the noise of blame and recrimination, the voice that urges you to pick up the broken pieces of your homes, of your community, of your lives and see if you can put them back together again.”

When it comes to my own fears, I often feel the need to deconstruct it.

Pull it apart and figure out where it comes from, how it works and what it would take to work all the way through it.

Look at it from all perspectives. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and that’s what we do, we embrace all perspectives.

Maybe it’s because I’m a journalist and our job forces us to absorb the fears and tragedies and dark and twisties of others and know more about them.

Maybe it’s because I’m weird, I don’t know, but either way …

There is a lesson in the fears realized in the Tucson tragedy.

They were felt prior to the whole event, they were real and for one woman, they came true.

But we can look at fear as a challenge to be faced not a reason to hide.

When we feel afraid, we can tell ourselves whatever it is that scares us is simply a boogeyman in the shadows, destined to disappear in the light.

And then, even more importantly than the realization itself, we can turn on the light.

We can be the light in the dark place.

It’s not always easy. It’s often very hard. But it is, often, necessary.

“That is what you do,” Kushner says. “…You don’t explain it; you don’t justify it. You survive it and go on living and you look for ways to put your life together again.”

If you’re Giffords, a little more than a week after being traumatically shot, you stand up and look out the window.

So… good luck. Face your fears. Go to new heights. Follow your heart. Speak your mind.

Pick up a spider…

OK, OK … Forget the spider.

Jessica Sieff reports for Leader Publications. Reach her at