It's been a particularly reflective last week for me. The combination of Rosh Hashanah, 9/11, and all of life's ups and downs has given me more pause. One of the things that I've been reflecting on, in particular, is how we create fear in our minds. I just completed a memoir called The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eger. She's a Holocaust survivor and a psychologist that treats patients of all kinds that have experienced trauma. There were plenty of excellent takeaways in the book. However, one of the most poignant for me was how Edith survived many treacherous experiences during the Holocaust only to be confounded and trapped in her mind in her safe environment at home.
I don't think it's a secret to anyone here that our minds dictate our fears, though maybe to the degree that they own us is what will surprise us.
Let's look at 9/11, for example. It's a horrific memory for many Americans. In the deadliest terrorist attack know in human history, 2,996 people died. In contrast, 2,418 people died from COVID in the US just yesterday, and we are approaching 660,000 total. To put that into context. That's 220 times the amount of 9/11 deaths. These numbers are not to make a statement about COVID, though I will in a minute here. I point these numbers out because terrorism and our unknown, tragic death capture our attention so tightly because of how we spin the fear in our minds. We are 3x more likely to be attacked and killed by an animal than by a terrorist.1 We spend so much money on defense, foreign policy, and security measures at home because it seems easier to put up a wall versus unpack and face our genuine fears.2
Coming back to the statement about COVID and fear, let me preface that I believe all fears indeed point back to the fear of death (or, in other words, fear of living fully). We've been living with this pandemic for 18 months. It's forced us to deal with fear in an unprecedented fashion: altogether, over a long period, and with dynamic variables (vaccine, masks, and social distancing). What I've noticed in the wake of COVIDs destruction are all different styles and levels of dealing with fear. Some people never left their home, while others partied last Spring Break. Some people would double up on masks and carry around disinfectant, while others refused masks completely. And now we have the polarization of the vaccine. You likely know the storyline here, though the good news is that 75% of Americans have received a dose, setting up the simple protection math.
All of these issues are the same to me. They reflect inherently how we individually deal with control and fear. We all have different levels of how deep we are willing to look at our 'stuff' (our fears). Moreover, we feel out of control when we feel fear, so we use our go-to coping mechanisms. We may avoid, check out, put up a wall, or even attack to regain control of something. Unfortunately, though, we can't control it, and these methods only help us stay in the same cycle. What we can control is how we respond. We can control our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. And that is where I've been swimming these last few days.
I believe that whatever you seek in this life, whether it's related to confronting death or getting the most out of our lives, can blossom from looking at our fears with curiosity. And keep doing it over and over again. There likely won't be a magical answer at the end of the rainbow, though you might surprise yourself as you continue to unpack your fears.
This past week reminded me that paradoxically when I face mine, I feel more in control of my life.