Long, drawn-out problems are a lot more likely than immediate crises to get our attention and turn on the fear factor. Waiting a week for my pathology report to come back on that tumor in 2010 was a lot more unnerving than a dozen near-death experiences in the Alaskan backcountry; more time to face my mortality.

I rang in this year (2021) with COVID-19. Only once was I really, really scared, but for two weeks I felt in the sort of limbo I experienced a decade ago waiting for that pathology report to come back. Plenty of time to consider my vulnerability... and my mortality. And I’m not even dealing with the chronic diseases many of you are.

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Remember all those “No fear” shirts and bumper stickers? What happened to them?

2020 was certainly a drag; here in AK, I think most of us were fairly insulated from much of the lower 48’s darkness but the year for us was still certainly defined by worries and fear. Masks, lockdowns, threats of supply chain disruption... ventilator & drug availability and job & business loss for those who had to think about those kinds of things... Not the rosiest year we’ve had in a while.

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We’ve all had plenty of time to consider our mortality in 2020. Will the vaccine change all that in ‘21? Perhaps. Will it render us invulnerable & immortal? Of course not. Ecologically and societally (nationally, let alone globally) we find ourselves on the brink of unprecedented drawn-out calamity (more like 2020 than 1962 when the Cuban missile crisis could have ended it all in a flash.)

If you ask me, we’re going to have plenty of time here on out to consider our mortality no matter what new liposomal nucleic acid sequence (or genetically-modified seeds) we come up with next.

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I read the sci-fi novel Dune 3 or 4 times as a kid (also Dune Messiah & Children of Dune. It all went downhill after that.) Perhaps the most famous (& repeated) quote from that book is the Bene Gesserit litany against fear:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.

Millenia before Herbert’s terrific trilogy however a far more powerful and... Super-human directive was relayed to our species not once, nor a dozen times like in Dune, but hundreds of times in the pages of Holy Scripture.

“Fear not!”

But it’s never a terse command without a comforting explanation (nor with a challenge to dig deeper into one’s own psychological reserves...)

“Fear not, Abram - I am Your shield!”

“Fear not, Hagar - God has heard...”

“Fear not, Israel - I have redeemed you, I have called you by name - you are Mine!”

Do you see the difference? The Bene Gesserit litany seeks to bring comfort or at least courage based upon the strength of the individual. Well, sooner or later I assure you - given enough time and strain - we will each find our breaking point. And if I’m wrong on that one, I guarantee you I’m not wrong on this point: sooner or later we will all face death.

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The young man (we assume he was young when he wrote it but who knows for sure) who penned history’s most famous litany against fear had a completely different perspective:

“Even if I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.. I will not fear- for You are with me!

The answer to fear doesn’t lie within myself. Thank God.

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Whether or not ‘21 is as scary as ‘20, for most of you reading this post, the year will be filled with uncertainty about chronic pain & disability, perhaps serious health problems, perhaps financial insecurities, and perhaps even your own mortality.

I for one don’t want to live in a fantasy world of false invulnerability and my own made-up litanies against fear. The threats, and our fragility are real. Ignoring them or attempting to cope through distractions may buy us some small amount of time to enjoy a few hours, days or months without facing the truth. Sooner or later though our actual life - breath and heartbeat - is on the line.

And in that moment (or months or years of anticipation... like 2020) do you want your strategy to be based on “only I will remain.”?

or “Thou art with me!” ?