When I was a wee lad, I had two abiding fears: death and mad dogs, i.e., rabid canines.
A recurring dream found me being chased by a dog, fangs bared, saliva drooling from its mouth. The animal kept gaining on me as I sped barefoot down the dusty road leading to our farmhouse.
I always awakened, wet with sweat, heart pounding; in the dream I reached the front door, only to find it locked. I would lie there, exhausted but grateful that I had been spared the painful 21 injections in the belly then administered to dog-bite victims.
As for the Grim Reaper, my nightly prayer was that I, like Elijah, would be swept up to heaven in a whirlwind, bypassing death itself.
These fears came to mind a week ago as Sunday school teacher Sally Bates launched a series of lessons on "Following Jesus in a culture of fear."
Sally began by passing out copies of 25 biblical passages specifically urging Christians to "fear not." She then asked each of us to write down the things we most fear and share them with the class.
The exercise produced a couple of light moments.
"I fear I won't get the basement cleared of clutter before I die, and my daughter will end up having to do it," one member confessed.
"I'm afraid Carolina won't be as good in basketball next year," said another, whereupon a Duke fan retorted, "I should certainly hope not!"
"I'm afraid I will fall in the shower, become an invalid and end up as a dried old prune," one said.
"I fear for my mother," volunteered another. "She's ready to go at 94, but she's afraid she may live another 10 years!"
Only a few days after the state legislature killed a bill requiring drivers over 85 to take road tests when renewing their license, a class member said, "I'm afraid of being creamed on I-40 by someone doing 80 miles an hour." I doubt she had an over-85 driver in mind.
Fear of the failing economy was a common confession, along with nuclear war, North Korea and Afghanistan, terrorists, weather, youth gangs, guns and "fear of change."
Several expressed a fear of outliving their financial resources. Many said they fear for the future of children and grandchildren.
I was surprised, but didn't take offense, that a few listed "fear of the media," one stating specifically, "I'm afraid of CNN news."
In retrospect, that fear is less surprising. The media is the bearer of bad news, the transmitter of fear by merely reporting fearful events around the world. A natural reaction among many is to want to shoot the messenger, even though when bad things happen we usually want to know the "who, what, when, where and why" of it and know it now!
At the end of the class, Gene Rogers, a Korean War vet asked, "A.C., have you thought about how young people face life, and even war, without these fears that confront must of us older folks?
"That may be because when you're 18 years old and the Good Book has promised you three score and 10 years, you're not afraid of much, if anything," I replied.
Since Sunday I've searched without much success for a ranking of fears to compare with those of my Sunday school peers.
My wife, however, unearthed a 1983 R.H. Bruskin Associates survey of 2,543 adults who were asked to name their foremost fears. Fear of speaking in public ranked first. Fear of death was seventh.
A similar survey listing public speaking first and death second prompted comedian Jerry Seinfeld to quip: "Number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death? Death is number two! Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."
Perhaps the most familiar quotation on fear, after the biblical "Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy," is President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 comment at the height of the Great Depression, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The same might be said in this, the worst recession since.
When I asked my 6-year-old grandson what he's most afraid of, he promptly answered, "Sand spurs!," having just returned from an afternoon at the beach.
"Sand spurs," I think, translates into "pain." I wish little Wade, and each of you, a life journey as free of sand spurs as humanly possible."
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