I was afraid of something
That One, that One,
And even his mother.
And those Others there,
Other, Other, and Other—.
So not like I at all
It made him shudder!
I ran from this One
That One and every Other,
Feeling always alone,
Of Something or Other.
And so I ran
Round and round,
Perhaps you’ve heard this joke:
Question: Why does Chuck Norris sleep with a nightlight on when he’s not afraid of the dark?
Answer: He’s afraid of Chuck Norris!
Fear is not always irrational. Everyone is vulnerable to the loss of health; the loss of loved ones; the loss of security. As a matter of fact, these things are inevitable. The point of spiritual practice and character cultivation is not to become impervious to fear, pain, or loss. The point is, rather, to reach the place Julian of Norwich reached: “All shall be well and every kind of thing shall be well.”
A Buddhist story has it that once a young mother whose baby died took the baby’s body to the Buddha. The mother asked the Buddha to raise the child from the dead. The Buddha responded that he would indeed raise the child from the dead under one condition: if the mother would go to the nearby village and bring back a mustard seed from a family that had never suffered loss.
Needless to say, the young mother did not come back with a mustard seed; rather, she came back to the Buddha having heard story after story of loss and grief. The point of the story is that loss IS the essence of human experience. The arrow of time goes one way, and that way is toward loss.
So, fear is not irrational. There are indeed bullets in the world. Yet, Epictetus is still correct: “People are not disturbed by things, but the view they take of things.” One of the messages of Unitarian Universalism is that we human beings are active in the making of our own meaning. One of the evolutionary arguments for why we have a religious impulse is that hope has helped us survive and that finding meaning in tragedy has saved human beings from despair in the hundreds of thousands of years of tragedy we have survived as a species. We make meaning out of tragedy, and thus we go on. When our huts have burned down or been blown away over the millennia, we human beings have decided that the gods must want us to move. And that’s a good thing.
That said, I must also say that I have great reservations about pawning cause off on a god by saying “It’s god’s will.” That can lead to some extremely passive behavior in the face of tragedy. Rather, the work of those who are spiritually adult is to accept the inevitables that life offers and go on with love and hope.