A View from the Hill: Face your fears

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Dear grandchildren,

Let’s talk about fear.

Not so long ago, before coronavirus and climate change came along to scare the bejesus out of you, fear was a much simpler thing that fed on imagination rather than terrifying news reports. OK, yes, there were scary wars and such, but it was different.

Fear was kind of quaint rather than paralyzing.

Imagination, rather than actual things, and the occasional misunderstanding of something a grownup said – or maybe it wasn’t a misunderstanding but misinformation delivered by a grownup or an evil sibling or relative – gave birth and form to these fears.

This kind of fear is normal and can be managed.

For example, Sage, when you were 5, and you were climbing on the woodpile at school, someone should have told you that when a kid who is the child of the person who runs your homeschool nursery school or kindergarten or whatever it was says “If my father sees you climbing on that woodpile he is going to kill you,” she was being hyperbolic, even if she didn’t know what that means.

I’m sorry that for the next month you had to flatten yourself against walls and peer around corners, Matt Damon style. That must have been stressful.

You acted strangely. I wondered what was wrong with you, and, under interrogation, you eventually confessed your fear of your imminent demise at the hands of the woodpile builder/school owner. I explained euphemism. And so ended that fear episode.

We are told by experts that fear is good. Without the fight/flight syndrome that it provokes in us, mankind would have quickly been eaten up in the wilderness by tigers, grizzlies, sharks, and werewolves.

But at some point, this instinct becomes unproductive and simply a burden.

Growing up, I had chores in the barn related to an old horse who lived there. In the winter, these chores would involve traversing the 25 yards to the unlit barn in complete darkness. This all could have been alleviated by some strategically placed lights.

But no. Immersed in my little world of darkness, anything became possible, and none of it was good.

The chores completed, I sprinted from barn to house in pitch blackness – bandits, and murderers, and kidnappers nipping at my heels – until I reached the back door into the kitchen and could throw the bolt. It was a very close call every time.

I don’t think I ever told anyone about it, and nobody asked.

Bedtime presented its own security issues. There was a big closet in my bedroom with a couple of doors. If either door was left the least bit open, there could be no sleep for fear of what would burst out of that closet at any moment. It wasn’t so much “Where the Wild Things Are” as Quentin Tarantino. The doors had to be latched, or there would be no sleep.

Don’t even ask about the attic. Or the cellar.

The point is these are not the deathly horrors that the wilderness inflicted on our forebears. They are self-imposed, or, sometimes imposed upon us.

So Hannah, there is not actually a “skillery skallery” alligator as Howard R. Garis suggested in one of the Uncle Wiggily books we read to you. He made it up! Fake news! Alligators are skillery and they are skallery for sure, but, hey, we are in New England. No worries!

At least not yet. Give it a few more summers like this one.

Oh, and Sage, Maddie, Jeremy, Morgan, Meghan, and Hannah, there was actually no hermit living in that cave beside the lake that you used to insist we visit by boat every night even though it scared the living daylights out of you.

And the splashing that I said was from rocks that the hermit was throwing? That was the beavers slapping their tails to scare us away. Anyway, I always got you out of there in the nick of time, didn’t I?

And Frankie and Lewis, relax. Those eyes on the face of the grandfather clock are not actually watching you. You should see them when the clock isn’t broken! That’s a different situation.

And that portrait on the wall of my creepy great, great, and maybe greater grandfather, Capt. Andrew Marsters, the bald guy with the beady eyes that seem to follow you down the stairs?

It’s just a portrait – oil and canvas on a wall. Relax.

Lewis, when you spent the night this weekend and we went down the stairs you avoided the clock but you faced up to the portrait. “Those eyes aren’t actually moving,” you said. “I’m not scared of him anymore.”

Atta boy. I sure wish I’d had that skill when I was a kid. It will serve you well.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.

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