I am basically a very cowardly woman. I am afraid of big crowds of people; I don’t like the feeling of being squashed in among strangers with no way out.
I am afraid of physical pain. I do not ski or snowboard or ride roller coasters. All of those activities give me an overwhelming sense of fear.
When it comes to anxiety about my children or my grandchild, I can bring myself to the point of near hysteria just by waiting for a blood test result. I am scared when my kids are on the road in snowy weather. I am afraid when they travel. I lie awake an night worried that they will become sick, will break bones, will crash or fall or use drugs or be mugged.
And I am terrified of guns!! Really, truly terrified. I am afraid of thieves with guns, angry neighbors with guns, strangers with guns, accidental shooting of guns.
When I was still teaching fifth grade, I reacted in total shock and horror to the events at the Sandy Hook School. I bought little magnets for the doorframe in my classroom and those of my close friends, just in case a crazed gunman came in and I had to lock my door quickly. I worked out possible reactions to an attack, trying to think of a way to save my students. I placed a broom near the door, imagining myself slamming the handle into the kidneys of an intruder.
I am a truly fearful person.
But I try very very hard NOT to let my fear rule my life. I try very hard to hold onto facts and to live my life based on the reality of the threats that face me, rather than my own overblown terror.
For example, I am scared of guns and of a gunman shooting up the movie theater or the mall or the classroom where I am spending my time. But I refuse to let that fear keep me out of those places where so much of life takes place. To do so, to give in to that fear, would be to give up far too much of myself. Every time I venture into a crowd to go Christmas shopping or to see a concert or to teach a class, I have to remind myself that the odds of something terrible happening are truly miniscule. I force myself to react to the reality and not to the fear.
I refuse to become an agoraphobic. I refuse to huddle in my house, afraid of other humans.
And when it comes to the safety of my children, I have spent the last thirty years pretending NOT to be afraid. I didn’t want to stop my children from climbing on the jungle gym, or sledding down the steep slopes. I didn’t want to instill my fears in them, knowing that to do so would be to stop them from living fully.
I am afraid to fly; good Lord, I remember the horrors of 911, the Shoe Bomber, the downing of flight 103 over Lockerbie. Air travel has real risks! But if I give in to that fear, I won’t ever go to Germany to see my friends. I won’t ever visit my Italian roots or walk on the moors of Scotland. I refuse to allow my awareness of the dangers of flying to stop me from living my full life and meeting new people and seeing new places. I refuse to give in.
So now, faced with the question of whether or not I believe that my country should accept refugees who are fleeing the wars that rage across Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen…….Well, I am afraid!
I am aware that some of these people could be terrorists. They could be sneaking their way into the US in order to do us harm. This is a sad but very real truth of our lives in 2015.
I am afraid.
I try very hard not to let my fear shape my life. I try very hard not to let my anxiety constrain me or change the way that I live. I refuse to shut myself or my family away from the opportunity to make life better for other humans. To do so, to turn my back on families who are suffering, would be to turn my back on my truest self.
I look at the statistics. How many of those who attacked Paris were refugees? All of the identified attackers were European Nationals. None were refugees. (Paris Attackers Nationalities) And I think of the 9/11 attackers, all of whom came to the US legally, but none of whom was a refugee. I think of the Tsarnaev brothers; neither they nor their parents were in the US under refugee status.(Tsarnaev Brothers; Snopes on Tsarnaevs).
I remember the terror that was brought to so many people, so many little innocent children, by the Oklahoma City bombers. They were not foreign. They were not refugees. They were not Muslims. They were just like us.
And I remind myself that I can’t avoid all danger. To live is to face risk. To walk among other human beings, to reach out in friendship, is to risk our hearts, our minds and in many cases our lives.
I drive on the highway every single day with barely a thought! My risk of death on my daily commute is far, far greater than my risk of being shot in a mall. I understand these facts, and so I go on and live my life.
The world is a dangerous and horrific place for so many people! So many mothers, young women just like my daughter, are running in terror to save their babies from war and famine and slaughter. So many millions of families, grandmothers just like me, are desperately fleeing in the hope of saving themselves and their children and their grand-babies. They have nowhere to go. They have no homes, no safety, no jobs, no way to care for those they love exactly as deeply as I love my own.
How can I possibly let my fear of possible danger keep me from offering a hand to these people? How can I let my government shut and lock the door as these desperate people beg us for safety?
Tomorrow, I will call Governor Baker of Massachusetts and urge him to accept as many refugees as we can take. I will call the White House and urge the President to do the same.
Because I have no desire to live my life in fear of my fellow humans. To do so would make me something less than fully human myself.