Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1488: The danger of fear; the destructiveness of terror

  I was terrified. But I learned powerful lessons. I not only learned that terror is extremely powerful but that it affects us in so many ways. I avoid terror like the plague.

  When I was about 16, I had a girlfriend named Louise. She lived in Pine Grove, some five miles from Tall Pine, Alabama where I lived. I walked the five miles to her home and five miles back. That was ten miles of walking just to see Louise. The walking, however, did not terrify me.

  Louise’s mother, Miss Fannie, had hard and fast rules about what days and times I could visit Louise. On Saturday, I could arrive at 6:00 p.m. and “had to go” at 8:00 p.m. I was a good boy, so her mother moved the “had to go” time to 9:00 p.m. I was a real good boy, so she moved the “had to go time” to 10:00 p.m. I was a real, real, real good boy so she eventually moved the time to 11:00 p.m. No matter how good of a boy I was, she would not move the time beyond 11:00 p.m. It was a drop-dead “had to go” time.  The time, however, did not terrify me.

  One Saturday evening Louise’s mother was out of town.  (Don’t get the wrong idea, her brothers and sisters were there). When 11:00 p.m. arrived, Louise persuaded me to stay until 12 o’clock. (Ever since Adam and Eve, we men have blamed the women). I left at midnight, walking the five miles back home. It was not midnight, however, that terrified me.

  I was feeling guilty as I walked back home because I had violated Miss Fannie’s 11:00 p.m. rule. After walking a mile or so, I reached the graveyard. (Cemetery in modern-day parlance). As I was passing by the graveyard, I heard swishing sounds with a regular rhythm. I became fearful. I stopped but did not hear the sounds. I began walking again. I heard the same swishing sounds. I became more fearful. I looked toward the graveyard to see if it was a ghost. I stopped again to catch the source of the sound. The sound stopped. My eyes, ears and senses were fearfully focused on the graveyard. I became even more fearful.

  I decided to do something different to catch the source of the sound, so I stopped real fast. The sound stopped just as fast. My fear increased greatly. I decided to walk slowly trying to catch the source of the sound. The swishing sound was there, but the rhythm was slow. My fears turned to terror. I took off running like a crazy man. I was more than fearful;  I was terrified.

  The faster I ran, the faster the sound seemed to move. It seemed like the source of the sound was right on me. In fact, the sound seemed to be everywhere: on my heels; on my side; everywhere. I was truly terrified.

  I ran like a crazy man for as long as I could. After about two miles of all-out running, I was completely burned out. As I slowed down, the sound slowed. I just could not run any further. I was spent physically, psychologically and emotionally. Finally, I decided to fall on the ground and just let whatever it was get me. As I was falling down, I realized that the sound was coming from the corduroy pants I was wearing. As I moved, the corduroy cloth on my legs rubbed against each other, creating the sound that so terrified me. I had been running from myself.

  I learned some important lessons about terror:

1. When we hear something that scares us and we cannot immediately identify the source, we must first check ourselves.

2. Fear makes us hear and see and feel what is not there. It alters our senses.

3. Terror is fear multiplied many times over. Terror makes us do crazy things such as my running like crazy from myself.

4. Terror makes us connect dots that are unconnected, i.e. my feeling guilty about violating Miss Fannie’s rule; midnight; the age-old fear of graveyards; and the ever present fear of ghosts.

  We are in a moment of terror in this country. We are in a situation where a few members of a religion (Islam) commit some high profile acts of terrorism, and the tendency is to see every one of Islam’s 1.6 billion members as a potential terrorist. When we are terrified, our judgment is warped. We see a few as many. We see the exception as the rule. We then do crazy things to each other. More importantly, we do crazy things to ourselves. Terror makes us disregard everything we have learned about others and about ourselves. Fear makes us lose our common sense. Terror makes us lose our sanity.

EPILOGUE – Fear is useful at times. It heightens our response. Terror is never useful for it creates responses contrary to our best interest. Terror is very destructive to others. More importantly, terror is ultimately destructive to ourselves.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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