No, this is not some feeble attempt to attract more readers out of humorous curiosity. Nor is this about a phobia of manatees (if that is even possible). Our local minor league baseball affiliate is named the Brevard County Manatees and their slogan ‘fear the sea cow’ has helped me gain a new perspective on the word fear.
In our modern vernacular, fear is certainly a four letter word. We all fear things. I honestly believe that a certain level of fear is healthy to keep us alert, alive, and functioning in society. It’s when that fear or worry becomes debilitating that we need to step back, take a deep breath, and re-examine our stance.
In my experience. I have only ever been afraid of two things. The known and the unknown. I either fear something that has occurred to me in the past where I was uncomfortable with the outcome. Or, I fear something that hasn’t yet occurred and I am not sure how I am going to handle it if or when it does occur.
Many years ago, I was on a business trip to Dayton, Ohio. At the time, I didn’t have many opportunities to travel for business and I loved flying. I enjoyed it so much that I would intentionally book flights involving multiple airport layovers so that I could experience what I considered the thrill of taking off and landing in a commercial airplane. My weirdness shines through 😉
On this particular leg of my journey back home to Florida, I was on a flight from Dayton to Atlanta. Sitting near the rear of the airplane, head leaning against the double-paned window, I was admiring the landscape of the earth below. I have always been fascinated with the different perspective on things from an altitude of 35,000 feet. As is customary around the time of initial descent, the pilot conveyed the current weather conditions in Atlanta along with our estimated arrival time at the gate. I got cozy in my seat and looked forward to watching the earth rise to greet me as we returned to the land of chaos on the ground below.
As we descended through 10,000 feet, my mind was wandering. An airplane tends to be a perfect time and place for me to meditate. The white noise of the engines, the vastness and beauty of nature below, and the separation from distractions of the modern day. They all provide an ideal atmosphere to empty the mind and just contemplate.
Well, that state of mind changed rather abruptly. One quick shudder from the airframe and the next instant I had visions of the flight attendant floating in mid-air in much the same way you see astronauts tumble in zero gravity training. The cup of tomato juice previously situated on my neighboring passenger’s tray table was now all over my shirt. We had hit a downdraft that caused us to take a rather violent roller coaster ride on invisible tracks through the sky.
The remainder of the flight was uneventful and we landed safely. However, for that 5 seconds, I was consumed with fear. I was certain that something abnormal was occurring, and I was uncertain of the outcome. I was fearing the known and the unknown at the same time.
If you’re feeling tight and stressed, release the tension in your body. Since that trip, I have taken many enjoyable flights. Some of them have been long overseas trips to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Tahiti. I have been able to see and experience so many of the wonderful experiences the world has to offer. My initial fears have not kept me from doing what it is that I need or want to do the most.
And so we circle back to where we started this journey. To a more jovial and light-hearted place. To our beloved sea cow. I am lucky to live in Florida where I can witness these gentle giants in the wild. On many occasions, I have been kayaking with my family only to have one of these beautiful creatures nuzzle up beneath our boat. They are curious, playful, endearing, and sometimes quite large. But not fearful.
I realize that the whole ‘fear the sea cow’ slogan is very tongue in cheek. But, when I thought about it, I started to see fear in a different light. There are real fears and worries that are well-founded and should be handled properly with professional help. Very often, however, our fears are unfounded and sometimes downright silly. Trust me, I know.
I have learned some valuable insights about those particular fears that are not urgent or severe, but still feel so. The fear of failure, the fear of trying something new and looking silly, the fear of breaking out and speaking your mind, the fear of doing what you know is right in your heart even though you don’t know whether it will be accepted by those around you. For those times, think about that “fearful” manatee, let a knowing smile cross your face, and bravely plunge into that thing you need to do.