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A Profile In Fear (Part One)

As a child i did many things i should not have done,  A few i got punished for, like rowing a boat out into  Puget Sound at age seven.  Most of them my parents either did not know about or they ignored.  It seems that there was almost nothing physical i would not try.  Though i could never learn to swim, i frequenrtly jumped into deep water.  It was the same with other sports: baseball, football, basketball.  What i lacked in skill, i tried to make up for by trying harder, taking more risks. being willing to accept serious injury as the price of participation.  There was almost nothing i would not try. and failing, try again.  Then gradually between the ages of 16 and 27. i drew back from life, crawled into a comfort zone and did not leave it for over 25 years.  It was a gradual process which i am just now trying to reconstruct and describe.  What changed this try anything kid into a frightened, uptight adult

First of all, there was one area where i had no skills and could not compensate by persistence.  And this was a very important area, for it was in the arena of human relationships that i threw in the towel.  Games i could do.
The rules were easy to learn, and playing by them was easy.  School and other highly structured situations were like games that i could play and find amusing.  Church was really fun because what people did there made no sense at all except in  terms of the rules of the game.  (in fact, at one time i thought i might spend the rest of myt life playing church).  But i could not do family and i could not do friendship.  (Much  later in life, at age 74, i would figure out that i am autistic  I am grateful that the time and place i spent my late childhood was a very tolerant and forgiving place -- if you were white and middle class    Family and, most especially, friends "covered" for my strangeness and forgave my unfriendliness.  Unstructured human relationships filled me with a fear that i did  not even recognize as fear; it was more like a brick wall standing between me and what i was supposed to do, and the fact that i felt it rather than saw it, made it no less inpenetrable.

Then in the three months before my 17th birthday i experienced a period of blackness.  I recognized the games people play as games, without substance, whithout rhyme or reason, without meaning.  I felt totally alone in the universe.  This was possibly the onset of clinical depression.  It might have been a symptom  of autism.  Maybe it was a spiritual experience that i was too unskilled to see in a politive light.  I only knew that life was meaningless but that suicide was a viable option if things got to the point where i could not take it anymore.  School started and the blackness subsided but thoughts of suicide would recur over the next 25 years.

But i was not conscious of being fearful and a meaningless life was better than none so i continued to be adventurous, taking risks, going to new places doing new things.  I had met my first real girl friend at age 14, and we became engaged (by long distance) at 17.  At age 20 i moved halfway across the country to complete my last two years of college where she went.  A week before graduation, she broke off our engagement.  I did not see it coming and i was devastated.  In a mental and emotional fog i left for Denver where i was to attent theology school.

I have never known whether theology school was the right thing to do or, if it was, whether Iliff was the right school to go to.  I was by then an agnostic but expecting a conservative theology; and i was also a social liberal (radical actually) who expected to be steeped in the social gospel and activism.  The opposite occurred. I found an education quite compatable with agnosticism but with very little emphasis on "people skills." the area in which i was so sorely lacking.  I met a woman, a girl actually, whom i should not have met, should not have dated and should not have married.  We married in February 1956.  She was 16, i was 22.  Eleven months later our son was born.  The marriage lasted 2 years and five months.  In August 1958 i was an unemployed single father. a little more challenge than i wanted but still not consciously fearful; though i am sure that by then the fear was there waiting to surface.  In november, i was hired by the State of Idaho.as a beginning social worker.

Part of my job was to visit public welfare recipients in their homes to update their eligibility for financial assistance.  I felt that this was an intrusion and i was very uncomfortable going into peoples homes and "checking on them."   I don't know if any of you watched the American version  of the tv drama, "The Bridge."
in an early episode, the autistic homicide detective goes to the home of a victim's husband to interview him.  She makes the process so painful for both of them that she accomplishes nothing and gets thrown out of the house.  The ineptness of a person with no social skills is almost unbelievable until you see it with your own eyes.  I went through dozens of similar interviews every week over the next 4 1/2 years.  I claim i quit to go to graduate school; my (present ) wife, Dianne remembers that i quit because i was on the verge of being fired.

In May of 1961 i married Dianne and she immediately  realized that there was something wrong about me.  Neither she nor i recognized that something as fear.  But it was fear.  I had found my comfort zone and was determined to stay inside it. I would work to make money, Dianne would raise my child and take care of all the things that i could not or would not do.  Gradually that "wall" at the edge of my comfort zone became recognizable as fear.  But it also remained a wall, a wall of fear.  (To be continued)


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 3rd, 2016 10:57 am (UTC)
You were probably fearless enough to alarm your parents.

Chun Woo started out in life intellectually and artistically fearless, and physically a little timid. Which was a bit of a stumper to Sheeyun and me-- we were Bold Alarming Kids. Though I spent a certain amount of time attempting to avoid participstion in neighbourhood rock fights without being obvious about it-- wanted to preserve my macho cred.

Chun Woo is no longer physically timid, in my view, but he's also not likely to get himself in a mess. Kind of a nice combination from my parenting POV....
Feb. 4th, 2016 06:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you for pointing out that courage could grow in some areas while shriveling in some others, and that there are different kinds of courage. A person who could run into a fire to save a dog might not be able to stand up to their mother.
Feb. 4th, 2016 06:32 pm (UTC)
Very true.

And some kinds of courage aren't much valued. Dog-fire courage is. Mother-facing courage is considered minimally required, not praiseworthy.

Related to out culture valuing death and its threat above the patient strains of living.
Feb. 4th, 2016 09:51 pm (UTC)
But the courage to oppose "social values" might often be the most important kind.
Feb. 4th, 2016 11:21 pm (UTC)
I couldn't agree more if I had a dump truck.
Feb. 3rd, 2016 12:44 pm (UTC)
I am of the opinion that as life gets more complicated, we have a tendency to grow in fear. I know I have. Some of our fear is valid and other parts, no so much. It is what we do with the not so valid parts that marks the rest of our lives, though. Thankfully, I've overcome some very basic fears and that has served me in good stead.
Feb. 4th, 2016 06:41 pm (UTC)
Yes, but some find ways to cut through the complexity to the underlying simplicity.
Feb. 4th, 2016 04:26 am (UTC)

As I have gotten older I have struggled with fear, or failure of confidence. Something I would have done when I was younger without a thought, suddenly is terrifying.

I'm not trying to compare with your experience. It is a reference that helps me understand you a bit.
Feb. 4th, 2016 06:36 pm (UTC)
Of course my experience is my experience and i have no idea how general it is.

I realize that i don't know how old you are. I am 82 and i am pretty sure that you are much younger than that, though i know you have been through a lot.

That people draw back from active life in old age is so common that social scientists have theories to account for it (voluntary detachment vs. loss of status)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )



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