No fear

Sean of the South



If I were walking on a beach and I found a shiny magic lamp with a genie inside, do you know what I’d wish for?

I would wish for (1) unlimited wishes, and (2) an Atlanta Braves bedspread. But my third and most important wish would be for you.

I would wish for the words within this small, insignificant column, drifting out into Internet Land, to help you feel unafraid.

I know you’re afraid right now. I can almost see you sitting there, staring at this paragraph on your phone screen, subconsciously worrying deeply about something. Something important.

You’ve been anxious for days, months, years now. I don’t know what you’re afraid of exactly, or which variety of fear keeps you up at night. But it hardly matters because fear is fear. And I happen to know fear.

I am a third-degree blackbelt in being anxious. I have my PhD in freaking out. I also know firsthand that fear does serious damage no matter where it comes from.

Fear keeps you from sleeping. Fear prevents you from living. Fear screws up your digestion and alters your brain waves. Fear will make it impossible to watch professional sports.

So even though I’m just some random guy you’ve never met, a guy with an imaginary genie, I know stuff. And I know that although these are just simple words on a screen, words can be more than mere words sometimes.

So for the sake of this column, let’s pretend that the sentences you’re reading are made of fairy dust. Imagine that, by some miracle, my third-grade-level syntax contains real magic.

If this were the case, do you know what I’d do with these quasi magical sentences? I would transform them into a giant word-quilt, and wrap them around you. Then I would give you the biggest, warmest, longest, hardest embrace, and hold you for a long time. I would squeeze you so tightly that your ribs creaked.

I would do this because this is what scared people need.

The one thing I craved as a child, shortly after my father committed suicide, was simply to be held. My needs truly were that basic.

What I really wanted whenever I was deathly afraid was for someone bigger than myself to hug me, to speak softly, and to tell me it was going to be okay.

And after all these decades, as a middle-aged man, if I’m being honest,

I still pretty much want the same thing when I’m anxious. I just want to be held by someone who loves me.

If this makes me less masculine, well, so be it. At least I’ve got a genie.

When I was a kid, I had a volatile homelife. I developed gastritis from all the stress and fear. I worried myself raw until I was kneeling before a toilet bowl each evening, unable to keep food down.

Being afraid was my defining childhood characteristic. After my father’s end, fear was in my family’s drinking water. It was our way of living. Fear was a religion.

Sometimes my mother, sister, and I slept with furniture barricading our bedroom doors. Sometimes we were too afraid to sleep at all. Sometimes I’d get so anxious that I’d go days without eating.

Was all this irrational? Yes. Was I acting totally ridiculous? Absolutely. But that’s fear. Nothing makes you look more idiotic than fear.

So anyway, why am I telling you all this embarrassing stuff? Because, above all, I wish for you to be free. I wish this with every cell of my soul.

One day, I hope you meet someone who has been through the same circumstances you’re going through. Someone who has survived and learned how to smile again.

These people are out there and, believe me, they want to help. They recognize that look of anxiety on your face. They know it all too well.

And if ever you approach one of these genuine people, do you know how they will probably respond? I’ll tell you. They likely won’t waste time giving you an oversimplified Doctor Phil pep talk like I’ve just done here.

I’m willing to bet these people would drop what they are doing, rush toward you, and wrap their arms around you.

Because some of us know how it feels to be alone. And many of us know from experience exactly what you need right now in the midst of your panic. You don’t need advice, you don’t need know-it-alls giving explicit directions. You need someone to love you.

You need arms to hold you. You need simple words to remind you that you will get through this. What you need is for someone to call you baby, hon, or sweetie pie. You need an ear. A shoulder. A hand.

Most of all, you need to know that there will indeed come a day when you will be writing these words to someone else.

So if you happen to find any magic lamps, let me know.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, and podcast host, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, he has authored 13 books, and he is creator of the Sean of the South Podcast.