Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Stand in Awe

and sin not; commune with your own heart upon thy bed. And be still.

For the record, I am Episcopalian, so ecumenical as might be construed as heretical, sometime church-going. It may be that nostalgia for the beauty of the King James, the comforting familiarity of ritual have as much or more to do with my religious self than any firm sense of God (or god, or gods). I do not struggle with this. This little bit of Psalm Four, though, stumbled upon a few years ago, often presents itself to me in times high emotion, good or bad. I realize that I have tried to make it, stripped of any particular theology, a rule for living: awe is not a bad stance, a transmutation of fear or surprise into something more conciliatory. "Sin not:" don't do what you shouldn't. And communing with one's heart covers sleep lost to anxiety, thanks before sleep, dreams of all kinds. It is the last that is the hardest: how to be still, when and how to quiet one's soul.

And so this question has come to me recently. Things are tense at the job I do not like; cuts are imminent, and I am practical enough to appreciate an unloved job that brings financial security as opposed to no job. Which brings us to this post's real topic: fear, the taste of fear. I mean this literally. I had no sense of this until about five years ago, when I was suddenly and cruelly upended by someone --- by several people, but someone in particular--- in whom I had placed much trust. The result of my loss was shattering, and physical: a long-distance and excellent driver since I got my license, I could not go through an intersection, even on a green light, without fearing that cars would suddenly come across. I did not trust cars to stay in their lanes, and even now I tense when I see a car waiting to enter the roadway, so shaken has been my sense of how reality operates. And there were ---and are--- physical sensations, face feeling hot, body feeling weak, a buzz in the ears, and most of all, a strange and lingering taste in my mouth that has returned as late, one that, when I first tasted it, took months to identify: fear. The taste of fear.

Having read about it in novels, accepted the phrase as a reality with no experience of it, I found it in my own mouth. I do not think I can do better than the clich├ęs I have encountered: a tang, an odd metallic flavor tinged with bitterness, no dry mouth required, though often present. When I was younger, though I had occasions that ought to have begotten it (such as, e.g. having a gun aimed at me by someone who thought my lover was sleeping with his wife. Yes.), that taste did not come to me. Other anxieties, less dramatic, but certainly worthy of it, deaths in the family, not getting a wanted position, nose-diving in an airplane, did not awaken it. My young self perhaps had other options: anxiety shaped itself into lustful desires, high states of excitement, tolerance for alcohol, long walks through various cities in the night, depression, aches in the legs. I wonder now if this taste of fear comes with age and/or with an internal clock that tracks an evolutionary urge for survival. For example, I'm quite sure young people serving in Iraq have tasted fear. Younger than myself, they've found it can't be washed away by cigarettes or beer, I've no doubt. Extreme situations would find their way to a primal response. But for myself and others who have led relatively unextreme lives, I wonder if this mechanism, this taste, presents itself with age. Should I say mechanism ? I don't know what it would have me do but swish my tongue and feel anxious. The peculiar tang is no mystery: it is adrenaline. Maybe in youth it channels itself into alternate forms of action; in middle age, its presence seems far less veiled: danger it calls, warning. Middle age, like it or not, not as many chances. The primitive ---or primal--- brain isn't fooled by "you're as young as you feel" stuff. Fight or flight drips down my throat, a raw bitter substance whose alchemy seems to depend more and more on the force of my conscious will than any subconscious interpretation and transmutation of it. Itaque haec habent. It's a simple question I wanted to articulate in this post: does fear present itself to us more physically as we age/run through one too many encounters ? Does this arise out of a deeply ingrained survival mechanism of our species ? If so, how to act on it, how, as we began, to be still ?

All double entrendre intended in this last---

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