Primal Fears


It’s less a matter of blind faith and more a question of acceptance and trust.  Thinking too much about some of what we commonly do might prompt daily panics, only adding to our existing fears.

You’re in an airplane flying at an elevation of about 35,000 feet listening to music, munching on a snack, dozing off, altogether comfortable.  But from time to time you consider the fact that you’ve never really understood how a huge, enormously heavy machine in which you’re sitting could become airborne and actually stay aloft.  Then you think about the fact that not much separates you and comfortable room temperature from the impossibly frigid, subzero readings right outside the cabin.  Or, peering downward you ponder the fact that you’re tens of thousands of feet off the ground – clearly an unnatural location for humans who’ve survived for thousands of years by moving about on the earth’s surface.  Still you’re pretty confident that the airplane will arrive safely at its destination – it always does.

Because you have an appointment, you enter the office building and wait outside a bank of elevators for one that will take you to the 65th floor.  You live in an apartment building on the 4th floor, but that’s hardly preparation for the trip that now awaits you.  It’s an “express” elevator and so in an instant you’re up to warp speed, or so it seems.  You’ve seen elevator shafts at one time or another and can visualize the dark, empty, bottomless space just below your feet.  Could a cable snap and send you hurtling down into the void and to certain destruction?  Highly unlikely – but not impossible.

You get out at the 65th floor, enter the office and are informed you will be seen shortly.  Meanwhile, you peer out the window.  Far down below are urban denizens, barely distinguishable moving about.  Cloud formations seem uncomfortably close.  It’s a blustery day and you sense the  structure is swaying a bit.  How can it be so tall, so slender and still be safe?  Admittedly you feel more comfortable after exiting the building.  Looking up at it from below makes you slightly dizzy.  It’s still a mystery how year after year it manages to stay in place.

Begin crossing a high suspension bridge in your car and unless you’re talking or listening to music, you might just be considering how high above the water you are and how a span so lengthy and incredibly heavy keeps from collapsing (especially when clogged with  traffic).  Throw in a high wind, a swaying bridge and your anxiety rises.  Bridges do collapse from time to time; still, you’re confident you will make it across.  There is, however, a palpable sense of relief when you do.

Who doesn’t feel a tinge claustrophobic when driving through a   tunnel as you eagerly await the light signaling you’ve reached the other end?  What scared me for years was the mistaken belief that tunnels were constructed upon river bottoms and that rushing waters passed just above tunnel ceilings.  Couldn’t cracks in the ceiling lead to water cascading down, swamping all cars and drowning their occupants?  This thought terrified me until I realized that they are carved out of the bedrock below the river so that cracks, where they do occur, would not lead to a swift watery death.  Nonetheless, it is a relief when I pass through tunnels and am back to shore.

Finally, there are boats, those huge passenger ships, some rivalling skyscrapers in height (could they actually tip over?).  When on board you are transported into a fantasy world of endless food, drink, entertainment and non-stop recreation, so any sense of peril is unlikely to intrude.  Still there you are, travelling in a small container amidst the absolute vastness of the sea and the awesome power of waves once disturbed.  And from time to time one realizes that underneath the boat are thousands of feet of water that rarely yields that which it sometimes chooses to swallow up.

Life goes on; human skill and ingenuity overcoming obstacles which once confounded and limited earth’s inhabitants.  Still, primordial fears remain partially subdued, but unlikely ever to be eliminated.

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