NELDON: Let’s talk about fear.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, plenty of spiteful words have been spewed toward individuals who share different beliefs. I won’t give the worst of those words a platform here, but if you’re curious, all you need to do is take a scroll through Facebook, peruse the comments section of a news article, or heck, stand in line at the grocery store for a few minutes.

One of the most common words I’ve heard over and over through this pandemic is a four-letter F-word. Though not the one that prompted a bar of soap in the mouth as a child, this word has reared its ugly head to the point it’s nearly a cliche since March 2020. It’s been used as an insult, an excuse, a cop out for doing the right thing.

Fear.

When told they could not gather due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, many accused those enforcing — and following — the rules “afraid.”

People wearing masks — especially after mass requirements were lifted — were called “scared.”

We were told not to succumb to fear, to stand up for our rights and take back our freedoms. Our fear was suddenly something of which we should be ashamed.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear of the more than half-million people who have lost their life to this virus, I am afraid.

When I encounter a friend who once ran marathons struggling for breath months after battling COVID, I am absolutely afraid.

And when I learn that someone I care about has come into contact with this deadly virus, you’re darn right I’m scared.

If you thumb through the pages of this week’s newspaper, you will find all sorts of people who are likely often afraid. You’ll see firefighters, police officers, educators and servicemen and women, all of whom encounter difficult situations every day. These individuals — our community’s heroes — are likely afraid often. Does that make them any less heroic?

Leadership speaker Catherine Bosley says, “Remember that bravery is not the lack of fear, but the ability to move forward in spite of fear.”

Like the civil servants listed above, when faced with fear, we are faced with decisions. How do we respond to that fear? We turn to faith. We spring into action. We do our part to make whatever is scaring us less scary.

If a firefighter uses a hose to put out a blaze that scares him, does that make him a coward, or a hero?

If you are given a tool to mitigate the thing that is scaring you and you choose not to use it, does that make you more brave?

If you claim not to be afraid of something scientifically proven to threaten your own existence, does that make you a hero, or oblivious?

As we battle another wave of hospitalizations, infection and mitigation strategies, I’ll be the first to tell you: I am afraid. I am afraid for my parents, my co-workers, my colleagues and my neighbors. I am even afraid for the folks who think I’m a coward for being afraid.

And I’m not ashamed.

I will use that fear to continue fueling my response to the thing scaring me.

And the irony of it all is — if everyone were a bit more afraid, we’d see a light at the end of the tunnel for all this fear.

Ambrosia Neldon is the publisher at Leader Publications. She can be reached by phone at (269) 687-7700, or ambrosia.neldon@leaderpub.com.

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