A lovely young lady of my acquaintance is going traveling, off on a great adventure. I’ve been very excited for her, and it was with shock that I heard her talk about her fear while walking into a rural gas station. “Surely she can’t mean it,” I thought. “It’s a joke of some sort.”
And then she explained: It’s a trip through the heart of Trump country, and she’s neither male nor white. She fears violence, discrimination, and the Klan.
Again, my reaction was startlement. Shock. Amazed disbelief. After all, if there’s a thousand Klansmen left in this country, I’ll be amazed; it’s not exactly a popular calling these days outside of rural Alabama, and even there the neighbors look at you funny. The Klan is a sad and pitiful shadow of what it was, not much left there but hate gnawing at itself. Wandering through upstate New York or the backwoods of Pennsylvania, the most you’re going to run into are a few rednecks, and they can be the best people in the world.
My instant conclusion was this: “The poor child has actually been fooled by the rhetoric. She thinks the country is full of violent racists, people who would actually do her harm. Oh, the hateful stories that are being spread!”
Because she is, of course, beautiful and wonderful. She makes music, and laughter and joy follow after her. If you ever have the wonderful fortune to see her perform, you’ll know what I mean; she’s one of those rare souls that make the world beautiful when she passes.
But another friend explained it to me. “You’re a big man, and you’ll go places I won’t with no worries. But even you’ve been in a tight spot or two; I’ve heard the stories.” And I had to allow he was correct. Stupidity, most every time, and it’s a wonder I made it through — and no credit to me either, because in a crisis I’m not exactly known for my fast thinking.
And then he said to me, “And I’ve seen you terrified. You remember; it was when you were asked to sing before a bunch of complete strangers last year. I could see you shaking from way out there in the back.” And again I had to admit it; I remember, I went dry-mouthed and shaking, and for no good reason at all. Good people, and they’d never have laughed at me in a million years, but there I was, scared out of my wits.
“See, it’s the same thing. Except, when you see a big guy, you know you’d do him some damage if he came after you. She knows deep inside that she’d be helpless.” I tried to object, but he kept going. “It doesn’t matter that most folks are harmless; there are some people that aren’t, and you’ve met one or two. Add to that, she’s out there in front of a crowd she doesn’t know at all, singing her heart out, and all she knows of them is they voted for Trump. She’s alone, and she’s vulnerable, and every second and all day long she knows it to her bones, and she’s truly terrified.”
I remember telling her once about my stage fright, and she found it hard to believe. But that’s the thing: If my fear is real, so is hers.
The saying is, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, right? And the philosophers would tell us that we only ever fear what we don’t know, so the way to beat the fear is to go out there and experience life and the world. I guess that’s fine for a philosopher, but there’s some things in life that I know I’ll never be able to face again, that make singing in front of a strange crowd seem like a stroll in the park.
And they say fear’s only in the mind, and I suppose that’s true — but it doesn’t make it any less real. It’s as real as anything to the person feeling it.
Now, there’s a bunch of people out there making fun of the “snowflakes”, those people who melted and are cowering in terror now there’s a president they don’t like. It’s easy to look at him and his tactics and think, Oh, that’s just bluster. He’d never do anything truly awful. And even if he tried it, we’d never let it happen. But the thing to remember is, even assuming you’re right about Trump — their fear is still real; it’s as real as anything, as the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, that thing you wake up screaming about from out of a sound sleep, you know the one. I have that dream too. I get a chill just thinking about it, and now I have I’m not going to sleep well tonight.
Fear can make people do strange things. Some people are afraid of Trump but they’re hiding it, poking fun and ridiculing him, because that makes them feel strong. Some people are afraid of being alone in a strange place, so they never leave what they’re used to — even when what they’re used to is deadly dangerous and with no good future, still they cling to it. Some draw inward and never have an adventure of any sort; others drown themselves in alcohol or drugs or work — anything to still that lonely terrified voice deep in their souls, the one that tells them they’re no good, that they deserve to be caught or to get in trouble or to screw up, that they can never make it so why try.
And then there’s this lady. She’s scared, away from home, heading to a crowd that might even be hostile, people she doesn’t know, that don’t know her. She’s doing something I couldn’t; she’s going out in front of them, and she’s going to sing. And the world will get a little bit better, and joy and beauty will follow her.
Because she is brave.
May God bless her and keep her safe. And if you, dear reader, see her in your travels, you watch out for her and make sure no harm comes to her, because you know the world can be a hard place, and there’s too few out there who bring us joy and beauty.