We are animals. We might not smell fear, but we sense it. It’s all around us, it keeps us awake, takes away our ability to breathe. We shake and shiver because of it. Adelaide Potgieter on confront the fear to live life to the fullest.
It causes every one of our organs alarm, our bodies go into distress. Our language becomes distorted, our words fractured. Great writers take hundreds of pages to plot out its hold over us. It hangs thick in the air of the cinema. You feel it strangely alive in the dark like an old enemy. A serpent in the garden. Have we got strong enough armour to resist its “assault and quench its fiery darts”? Fear can excite some, get the blood to pump a little warmer, after we have dealt with it existentially might we just get off on what a Frenchman called “the perpetual temptation of terror”? A field of black tulips. Beautiful but threatening. Like a kid reading The Tinder Box. Exhilarating, but offish. Fear can vanish for a season and then it comes upon us suddenly. What is our deepest fear?
The older I get, the more I have long forgotten memories pay visits to me. As all unexpected guests, they call at the most inopportune, do-not-disturb, impasse. It’s not as if I even recall giving them the courtesy of a swing on the porch. What is worse is they bring nothing revelatory, they bring only a slow and deliberate contemplation. Scenes and frames. Moments and happenings. Actions and considerations. Time and history. In a sense my visitors seem to always point to a past of ‘great unrest’.
Recently, they politely requested that I pull off-road, out of gridlock, amid whaling skies, to consider a London subway exploit when I was 14. My brother and I were voyagers. Explorers of the Great Smog. Journeying to Piccadilly Circus and from there far away to a new life away from parents, schools, rules, ugly people and a bad world. The ride was velocious filled with bursts of light and dark, sounds of rumbling and swooshing, and filled with characters in costumes. At the first stop, one such grody, figure oddly reminiscent of John Hurt as John Merrick, took a seat next to my brother, and that frightened our adventure to a halt. About a minute into the ride, the man whom I never got to know, leant over my brother and whispered to me “I can see your fear, you’re afraid of me aren’t you?, I was preparing to grab my brother and dash for the door at the next stop, when he added pointing to the other riders “it’s them you should be afraid of, the sombre faces, the plain people!” He was off at the next stop. He was right.
We are afraid. We are afraid all the time. But we are afraid of the wrong things. Afraid of what we might lose like riches, belongings, luxuries, access, rights, friends, privileges, status, power and respect. We are afraid of growing old, of wrinkles, laugh lines, fading faces, grey hairs, aches and pains, and of forgetting, forgetting even ourselves. We are afraid of the young of their fearlessness, innocence, naivety, spontaneity, rebellion, honesty, and of possibilities, of throwing caution to the wind. We are afraid of the way we have made the world of wars, disasters, market crashes, coups, anarchy, aliens, currencies, politicians and of how we will be ruled. We are afraid of beliefs of religions, practices, outfits, prayers, places, movements and of all that is foreign to our limited perspectives. We are afraid of differences of clothes, expressions, hairstyles, faces, colours and of what we know not. We are afraid of not belonging, fitting, trending, being liked, followed, being loved, heard, seen, lusted for, found funny, and that we might not be enough, good enough, worth enough, important enough, remembered enough. Perhaps then our deepest fear is of living itself?
We are afraid to be embarrassed. For Kate Moss it might be slip on the runway. For Beyonce hair caught in a fan. For Milli Vanilli a tape deck jam. For Beckham a moving sock. We get afraid that things might go wrong. A nipple ruins the SuperBowl. Kanye West steals the mic. Eugene falls of his horse. Merkel’s Bush rub. The shock of a famous figure committing suicide. Biltong sushi. We have thousands of fears. A bully boss. A dodgy uncle. An abusive parent. A harassing colleague. An unhappy client. A jealous sibling. A bitchy friend. Fears that become phobias. From an odorous Alliumphobia to spongy and ticklish Genuphobia to a more small and understandable fear such as Medorthophobia. But this proves we have reason to fear, right?
It is then perhaps no taunt for a Lovecraft to tell us that fear is our oldest emotion. For if you have, like me, stared into its lifeless eyes, it is that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses.” So grand a threat that it can make the poet turn his gaze away from a glorious future with a world as “a land of dreams” to a startling realism that “we are here on a darkling plain”. Fear suffocates life in full colour. It leaves us grey, and gloomy, it makes us somber and plain. It seeks to make us normal, to make us all the same, not because we share an unquenchable joy for living, but because it makes us likeminded, robotic, and content.
Fear must be faced daily. Every opportunity to face our fears must be taken. I have faced enough fears to know that being afraid is not the problem, it’s being too afraid that is. Too afraid to speak up. To say no. To stand your ground. To not be fazed. To be courageous. To risk being alone. To dare to be different. To not conform. To brave the “howling gigantic curses” and not resort to a “heartlessness of ideas”. To call the prigs bluff on “the valve trumpet” whilst always viewing the universe at a “slight angle”.
So, yes, by all means face that deep fear. Climb that cliff. Bathe in beer. Jump the queue. Skinny dip for god’s sake. Try the Escargot. Tickle the Lions balls if you must. But face your fear also in the everyday things. The small moments.
Remember, don’t be plain, don’t be grey, don’t be afraid of the great things; be afraid of the ugliness inside and face it. Be ruthless and fearless with it! As the poem goes “it is not in some of us, it is in all of us”.
Adelaide Potgieter is an entrepreneur and founder of Mad World, a diverse group of companies consisting of the Mad:Advertising (ad agency), CineMad (film and tv), Mad:Music and Mad:Studios (music, recording and video), Stagefront (stage, construction and shopfitting), Mad:Online (call and contact centre), The Bromwell (fashion and art retail), BREAD (food kitchen, bakery and sweet shop), aMadoda Braai (tshisanyama), Mad Space (property) and WTL (non-profit).
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