If words can kill, here are the words: Your opportunity has passed. As an antidote to this, there’s a transient thought–a phrase, actually– we can offer to those who find themselves on the edge of their lives. The phrase is within everyone’s ability to state or express. It has settled in you; it’s comforting, simple, but hidden from view. And camouflaged of its power. I can take apart the barrier that stops people from finding the transient phrase. I can defeat fear.

Fear is an emotion that should be examined by ourselves, today, without doing our minds the disservice of looking up what scholars have written on the subject. Don’t go to others to reveal what you can discover. Come with me? There’s plenty to be afraid of.

We’re going to go in wavy and odd directions with this one. Are you willing to risk a process that could equate a parasite with its host? Or do you prefer to drive in straight lines, on sunny days? Let me tell you, clear directions to known destinations can keep you from stumbling across interesting places.

Interesting places? Let’s go there.

Your opportunity has not passed, because it has never moved. Your opportunity changes names, colors, dates and appearances. You miss this point due to fear.

Fear is not being able to protect yourself. That’s a reasonable definition. Therefore we can say if you have a gun, and guards, and a door lock, with a security system, in a private palace, you’ll have no fear. Or you’ll have very little fear. And then a spider drops on your arm.

Or you get a pop up message on your computer: Send us bitcoin, you’re locked out of your files.

Or you log into your bank account and you’ve been hacked.

If fear is not being able to protect yourself, then why do we get scared watching a movie? When we are sitting in our very safe palace? And we know the movie’s pretend?

We can protect ourselves with guns and guards and malware security and passwords and a PG-13 channel blocker and so on. The list becomes so long, we cannot possibly protect ourselves in all ways. Because, down drops a spider.

All right. I see how this is going to go. It’s just me and you breaking this down, yes? I fear we are in for a long drive. We’re cruising to somewhere strange on a dark night, our wallet’s left soaking in a puddle at a rest-stop parking lot and our phone’s been forgotten at home.

Fear is seeing something where it should not be. That’s a good definition. You walk into your bedroom and there’s a butcher knife on your pillow. You didn’t leave it there. What are you feeling? Fear! And then you find three buttons sewn into the cuff of your dress shirt. The extra button is where it shouldn’t be, either. So I guess that definition isn’t fool proof.

Place a shrimp on a table and its dime-sized parasite next to it, and cover each creature with its own identical paper cup. Then place another empty cup upside-down on the table, so the three look the same, and keep this third cup closest to you. Now choose the cup that does not contain aquatic life.

Congratulations. Whether you intended to or not, you have established a process that successfully equates two different creatures. You’ve created a system that makes them indistinguishable. You have every right to employ obtuse reasoning as a livable standard, so long as you apply it consistently, and you don’t grovel by asking if it’s allowed.

The transient phrase is going to require your assertion. Let’s learn how I learned it.

Defining fear is not required to conquer it. In fact, we don’t need to know our enemy on terms it uses to defeat us. We unmask fear by understanding the fact that all of its definitions apply.

There’s a beach in Dennis, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. If you make your way out to the sandbar, you’ll have to swim over a big black mass of seaweed and who knows what else, eight feet below you. Then you’ll arrive at the sandbar, where you can comfortably stand in about hip-deep water.

That black mass is one scary barrier. When I swam over it, I was terrified. I couldn’t swim fast enough. I didn’t look down at it. I thought: If I leave it alone, it will leave me alone. Crossing over it took about fifteen seconds.

One day I brought a diving mask to that beach, to hunt for sand bar shells. When I was making my mad dash over the black mass, I decided spur-of-the-moment I was going to dive on it.

I had no idea what I was to discover, no idea what I was to solve.

I took a deep breath, ducked, and swam directly down. With a mask, you see everything. It’s like an underwater TV show. Within seconds, the mass was clear to me. It was comprised of tangles of dense rooted seaweed, various rocks, a spread of dark sand, and one or two large sea snails, called conches. The sand was darker than the beach, and darker than the sandbar.

My four-foot radius gave me a modest view. Only a fraction of the mass’s secrets were within sight, but I had enough information to settle into this environment and call the circumference in front of me, my own. For thirty seconds I could hold my breath and face my enemy.

I got my mask right down to the seafloor, touching bottom. There was a half-buried rock, about the size of a tennis ball. A thin coating of sand covered the rock, giving it an meteor-like look. To my left, a two-foot long fish came out of the weeds and shook itself in a quick motion, staring at me. It was a Tautog, looking scaly and brackish and prehistoric. It’s on the Vulnerable list of conserved aquatic life.

I faced the sand again. There were black periwinkles surrounding the half-buried rock. The periwinkles were evenly-spaced. That was odd. Imagine my shock when I realized those were actually knuckles, leg joints, of a larger being, a spider crab, camouflaged perfectly in the ocean dust. You don’t want to know how big he was. I was going to lift him by his head and dislodge him from his hideout, but instead I thought, leave him alone.

I needed to see this beast in its peaceful existence to begin to get wind of the transient phrase, many years later. Unfortunately, I would not be so kind to his kind, in the very near future.

A creature such as the ungainly spider crab had no interest or capability to hurt me. I cannot say the reverse.

Fear is being discovered.

Fear is botching discovery.

About two years ago, I was quite simply made aware of the transient phrase by the highest authority. I wasn’t praying, but I was open. The three words came as an assurance: “It’s all right.” No matter who you’re with, or what their condition, if they’re suffering, or even if they’re about to die, that simple phrase will help. The both of you.

“It’s all right” is the phrase that destroys fear. Instantly. It’s what you can say, today, and what you will hear, tomorrow. You do not have to add anything to it. You do not have to say, “It’s all right. You need to ___________”. Nothing but the phrase is required.

I have been with loved ones dying. I have told them it’s all right. In the grand scheme of things, those words are the greatest truth I know.

If the person you’re speaking to doesn’t accept it, it’s all right.

No matter what they accept or reject, the fact remains.

I have seen people using it without the awkward verbosity I’m giving here. I’ve seen pets being put down in animal shelters, and the distraught owners repeating to soft, warm bodies: “It’s all right.” Of course it’s not all right, at all, to us, or them, in the physical world. But we assert. We still say it. And in a fashion so much bigger than us, it’s a way we spread divinity. Because it’s all right in the afterlife. The universe after we pass is soaked in it. That’s the understanding I have. Those are the three words I expect to hear, when I perish.

Take a look at the photograph that goes with this story. It’s a picture of a man, with a spider crab, on his head. That man is me. When I see the photo, I understand fear. That poor living creature I’m using as a prop must have been terrified. It’s all right. I’m saying it to his God-cherished soul and I’m offering it to my foolish, ignorant self. I’ve come to understand much in the twenty-seven years that have passed since the photo. Dear beast: Your lesson has made it home. I’ve made something of it. I’m sorry.

Fear is personal to each of us.

Fear is not what a man can do. Fear is knowing what I, as a man, am capable of doing.

About Ara Hagopian's The LITERATE Show

For over thirty years, I have enjoyed drawing beautiful shapes and writing complementary stories. The imagery tends to focus on our place in the world—whomever or whatever we may be. I am influenced by Twentieth Century history—I read vintage magazines, books and letters. Inspiration comes from visualizing human achievement and personal interaction—derived from people, places and things which may be obscure, but never insignificant. My pen-and-ink THE MAGNIFICENT RECOVERY was selected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for their 2008 summer art auction.
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6 Responses to Fear

  1. Clive Donald Watts. says:

    That is a nice simple but meaningful piece.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There are many types of fear, most are meaningless made big by lack of knowledge, when faced by real overwhelming fear is when you find out who you really are.

    I think you have it all covered with this work Ara.

    • Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I had something to give to everyone and needed two helpers to get it delivered. “Your opportunity has passed” was one, “Fear” was the other. The reassurance that comes from my solution could only be presented just so. It also helps I’ve lived a good long time and can gather and write about it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Very nice Ara, thanks for sharing.

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