There is a child within us… we must persuade not to be afraid.” Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates
“We are defined by what we fear.” Gordon Livingston, And Never Stop Dancing
“To see what is right, and not to do it, is lack of courage.” Confucius
When I was a kid, my mother would send me for a loaf of bread or mild to the hovel that doubled as a country store not far from our house. The walk there and back was ten minutes of pure terror. We lived on the last street of the last subdivision in our small town, backed up to the pine woods that are typical of the sandhills of South Carolina. The forest itself was friendly space. My brother, my buddies and I had forts in the shallow, red-clay gullies, and we created baseball fields in the meadows. We climbed the trees. My big brother and I picked wild blueberries, blackberries and plums there, and Mother made us cobblers from the fruit. We discovered an old moonshiner’s still. On the other side of the narrow strip of woods was a country road that led to Beverly’s Grocery Store, a small local market where we could purchase milk, bread, candy and baseball cards. The distance between where I emerged from the path in the woods to Beverley’s Grocery was no more than 100 yards, but no condemned prisoner ever felt more like a Dead Man Walking than I did as I passed through a gauntlet of savage, growling, snarling dogs. I guess there were anywhere from six to twelve of the beasts. I don’t recall that I was ever bitten a single time. But that did not lessen my fear. I hated that short hike.
Though I am now an adult, I still despise barking, menacing, aggressive dogs. Why was I so fearful? Why am I still so apprehensive? While I am consciously aware of the spontaneous fright that pops up in me when I see an attacking dog rushing toward me, I am far more likely now to challenge the mutt, at least to throw a rock at him. If I know the dog will be there on a regular walking route, I carry a stick with me. When I told a friend about these episodes, he said simply that he would have shot the dogs. Where did my fear come from? Why did I feel so powerless against those mongrel mutts?