2016-04-17 – My wife Kit has a coffee mug with the following saying printed on the side:
Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
Coffee mug adages are often meant to be encouraging (if they are not funny). After all, when you reach for coffee you’re probably looking for chemical encouragement. Why not put it into words? Between the Internet and coffee mugs we are awash in encouraging words.
And yet we are not encouraged.
Could it be that “everything” is always stated as black and white . . . and extreme?
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
“Everything”? Really? Not for me it isn’t? Oh, yeah, sure, some things I want (or have wanted) are (have been) on the other side of fear.
I remember walking into a writing class in 1987 and noticing a woman in a bomber jacket. And I wanted to meet her and get to know her. But she was on the other side of fear. It took more than two years before I mustered the courage to ask her out. That was my future wife Kit. We’ve now been married 25 years. I still want her, but she’s no longer on the other side of fear.
Then there are things that I want (or have wanted) that were never on the other side of fear. In my 20s, I decided I wanted to go to law school. School was never anything I feared. It was probably just the opposite. I probably feared not going to school. So not going to school was on the other side of fear, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to go to law school. Going to law school was not on the other side of fear. It was on the other side of hard work.
As I type this, Chicago is in its first patch of real spring weather. The morning sun in streaming into my basement office, glittering through the glass block window. I want to go take a walk in the park. Taking a walk is not on the other side of fear. It is on the other side of the street.
Fear is not the indicator of my wants. I fear war, pestilence, and disease. I don’t want any of those. Ew!
It’s really kinda weird to say that “everything you want is on the other side of fear”—don’t you think? It kinda implies that you have a pretty dark and unattainable set of wants. And it kinda implies that you’ve never attained any of them.
Not very encouraging.
But that’s what passes for encouragement these days. Everything in black and white. Everything in the extreme. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt put the sentiment in a slightly different way:
. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
We all have things that we want to do and we don’t because of fear. (You know what I am talking about.) But it’s not “everything.”
* * *
Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.
* * *
I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee, and…
* * *
Sorry. Everything makes me think of a song. And sometimes one song leads to another. (Okay! “Everything” doesn’t make me think of a song. But many things do.)