We are all afraid sometimes, though we don’t like to admit it. Humans tend to see fear as a weakness, as opposed to our body’s survival mode.
My sweetie pie, Ryan, by all indications is a tough guy. He worked security for two decades, protecting rock-and-roll bands, NFL players, and various other folks, which sometimes had him returning home with assorted injuries.
“I’m too old to hit people,” he declared one evening when he came through the door cradling a broken hand.
I mention this because, in his world, one never admitted to fear. Ryan told me that even on the day a man pointed a gun at his chest, he wasn’t afraid. So imagine my surprise when I discovered him so gripped with terror that he was barely able to function.
We were scuba diving on a shallow reef, not much more than 20 feet deep. In retrospect, the dive was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been on. Colorful coral heads jutted up from the sea floor, each sporting its own small world with jewel-like fishes darting about. Pre-historic-looking rays flew by. Sunlight sparkled, diamonds in the water.
There is a rule in diving that one never, under any circumstances, leaves their partner. Diving alone is always dangerous. But on this day, I was so enthralled with the colonies of dazzling creatures – dark blue damsel fish with their improbable turquoise spots, industrious coral shrimp, shy, orange clown fish – that I lost track of Ryan.
I spotted several rays that lazily glided my way and took off to meet them. Something made me turn around. That’s when Ryan emerged from behind a rocky outcrop. Our eyes met. Then, he removed his mouthpiece and yelled, a silent, shocking scream. I watched, unsure of what had happened.
Once we returned to the boat, Ryan was unusually quiet. Something was seriously wrong, but he wouldn’t explain. It wasn’t until we returned to our hotel room, that his problem became clear.
“I followed a fish into a small opening.” Ryan sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the floor. “Then, I couldn’t get out.”
I understood immediately. The terror he must have felt at being stuck in a watery hole gave me chills.
“I was afraid.” The pain in his eyes froze me in place.
“You had every right to be afraid.”
He shook his head. “No! I’m never afraid.”
No matter what I said, Ryan’s gloom remained. Finally, I suggested he speak with the two other men we were diving with. Both were master divers with many years of diving experience.
Later that evening, I watched Ry laugh with the rest of our friends, finally at ease. “What did they say?” I asked.
“They told me there isn’t a diver on the planet who hasn’t panicked at some point. And that if I ever dive with someone who says they’ve never been afraid they’re lying, and I shouldn’t ever dive with them again.”
The truth of the matter is we need fear. The ability to fear is the reason humans have survived. Fear makes us aware of danger and forces us to focus and take action. Ultimately, fear keeps us safe. In Ryan’s case, he managed to calm himself enough in that small cave to drop down, dislodging his snagged tank from the top of the crevice. Then he slowly backed out.
“So, you feel better?”
He nodded. “But I’m never doing that again.”
Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group
Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook
As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.