Friday, June 27, 2008

On Fear

By Beth Terrell


Reading Mark’s posts, I have come to the conclusion that he is one seriously brave guy. I know this because he has traveled all over the world, served in the military, visited NORAD headquarters inside a mountain three times, and has been in a profession that has taught him “a lot about hijacking.” Come to think of it, Ben and Chester are pretty brave guys too. I can’t speak for Jean or Fran.

The reason this interests me so much is that, after Ben wrote about liking mysteries because he likes to read about the clever ways to commit and solve murders, I asked myself what I like about mysteries. And yes, the pursuit of justice, the vindication of the victim, the triumph of good over evil, the hero who risks everything to do what’s right…all those things are a large part of it. But another part of it is that all those things the protagonist of a mystery takes on are things that I’m afraid of.

That’s right. Fear. Plain and simple. Because not only am I not brave, I am the kind of person who decides, when I go to the Laundromat, which dryer I will hide in if an axe-wielding maniac comes in.

Mysteries do several things for a person like me. First, by becoming the justice-seeking detective, I experience (albeit vicariously) what it must be like to be fearless, or at least to push on in spite of the fear. Have you read those studies that show that visualizing an athletic performance in detail improves actual athletic performance? Reading mysteries gives me a sense of preparedness, as if I have logged somewhere in my brain, for use in an emergency, a little file labeled, “What Would Lucas Davenport Do?”

The third thing is harder to explain. It’s like that story about the man who put up a garish tangle of wires and antennae in his yard. When asked by a neighbor what they were for, he said, “They keep the giraffes away.”

“There are no giraffes around here,” the neighbor said.

“See?” said the man. “It’s working.”

Reading mysteries is like a talisman, a way to ward off all the scary things out there. Since it’s the things we never dreamed of that come out of the wings and knock us flat, by reading about murder, I hope to keep it from my door. Se, Fate? I know what’s out there. This is a life lesson I don’t need.

It’s silly, and it’s superstitious, but there it is. It’s not the only reason, and maybe for all you truly brave folks out there, it isn’t even a factor, but for the rest of us, I think it plays a part. It’s why we watch horror movies and ride on roller coasters: in hopes that the manufactured fear will protect us from the real thing.

1 comment:

Jean Henry Mead said...

We think along the same lines, Beth. But I think that when we're in a life and death situation, our survival instincts kick in and we do whatever's necessary. Some of our ancestors' genes have undoubtedly been passed down the line to us. They were definitely survivors.