Fear

I went on one of my usual, periodic neighborhood walks last night to get away from the laptop and to get some circulation flowing in my numb bottom. The walks give me a much needed chance to be on my own away from electronics, and more importantly, a chance to think.

This particular walk stands out in my mind enough to write about. As I made my way up a nearby street, a gray haired man was taking out his garbage. In the dim yellow light of the streetlights, I could see that he was looking at me quite closely. Even once he got back inside, he stood staring at me from behind a glass door, frozen in place, watching stone-faced in a way that almost seemed hostile. He didn’t even flinch when I threw a friendly wave.

Mind you, it was only around 11:00 at night, I was dressed like everyone else, and I wasn’t carrying a baseball bat or AK. When I had passed by his house, I looked over my left shoulder and he had ventured half way out the door to watch me. I became self-conscious of every step, and for a brief mad moment, thought of turning and running in his direction shouting “there is nothing to be afraid of!” He probably would have died on the spot.

I don’t exactly live in a rough city, and I’m in a nice neighborhood at that. Yet, I had pretty much activated the neighborhood watch network just by meandering at a slow pace up my neighbor’s street. Just the fact that I was not doing a meaningful task such as taking out the garbage, checking the mail, or paying my taxes automatically made me suspicious. Perhaps he thought I was going to dig through the trash looking for juicy identities to steal. I mean, only hoodlums and vampires are out after 23:00 on a work night, right?

Even though this man was 30+ years my elder, I am starting to think that he learned everything he needs to know in life from the Dateline and 20/20 horror stories that families soak in every night. If anyone can dig up an obscure, fear-producing story, its those guys. I even had one person tell me not to go to China last year because she saw on Dateline that they “arrest people for no reason and make them disappear forever.” Geez.

I feel sorry for this gray haired man. He had an immaculate yard, and a nice car parked in front of a nice house. He has built a miniature empire for himself and the fear of something going wrong in his little world must have been overwhelming. He had allowed life to become stale out of fear of something changing. Had he simply greeted me, I would have stopped and we could have become new friends — enriching each other’s lives in some small way.

In travel, I hear unfounded fears all the time. People say things like “I could never do what you do…” [meaning vagabonding] or “I could never travel alone…”. It predominantly seems to be an American thing too, hence my slap to fear television. Loads upon loads of Europeans and Scandinavians hit the roads alone, many women, and have the time of their lives. Why is America so obsessed with fear?

I have taken lots of stupid risks in the last 20 years. I’ve hurt myself sky diving, training in the Army, free-solo rock climbing, wreck diving, caving, you name it. Sure my body is a little more broken than the average 32-year-old…but I’m willing to bet that I smile as much or more than the gray haired man.

Helen Keller said “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”

Smart woman. 🙂

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