I have always been afraid… Always been pretending to follow you closely, alwyas been pretending to sharpen my teeth, when the truth is, I am … scared to death just treading on your shadow.
AubadeI work all day, and get half-drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain-edges will grow light. Till then I see what’s really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when I shall myself die. Arid interrogation: yet the dread Of dying, and being dead, Flashes afresh to hold and horrify. The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse —The good not done, the love not given, time Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because An only life can take so long to climb Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never; But at the total emptiness for ever, The sure extinction that we travel to And shall be lost in always. Not to be here, Not to be anywhere, And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true. This is a special way of being afraid No trick dispels. Religion used to try, That vast moth-eaten musical brocade Created to pretend we never die, And specious stuff that says No rational being Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound, No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, Nothing to love or link with, The anaesthetic from which none come round. And so it stays just on the edge of vision, A small unfocused blur, a standing chill That slows each impulse down to indecision. Most things may never happen: this one will, And realisation of it rages out In furnace-fear when we are caught without People or drink. Courage is no good: It means not scaring others. Being brave Lets no one off the grave. Death is no different whined at than withstood. Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape. It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know, Have always known, know that we can’t escape, Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go. Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring Intricate rented world begins to rouse. The sky is white as clay, with no sun. Work has to be done. Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
For many years I have been asking myself why intelligent children act unintelligently at school. The simple answer is, "Because they're scared." I used to suspect that children's defeatism had something to do with their bad work in school, but I thought I could clear it away with hearty cries of "Onward! You can do it!" What I now see for the first time is the mechanism by which fear destroys intelligence, the way it affects a child's whole way of looking at, thinking about, and dealing with life. So we have two problems, not one: to stop children from being afraid, and then to break them of the bad thinking habits into which their fears have driven them.What is most surprising of all is how much fear there is in school. Why is so little said about it. Perhaps most people do not recognize fear in children when they see it. They can read the grossest signs of fear; they know what the trouble is when a child clings howling to his mother; but the subtler signs of fear escaping them. It is these signs, in children's faces, voices, and gestures, in their movements and ways of working, that tell me plainly that most children in school are scared most of the time, many of them very scared. Like good soldiers, they control their fears, live with them, and adjust themselves to them. But the trouble is, and here is a vital difference between school and war, that the adjustments children make to their fears are almost wholly bad, destructive of their intelligence and capacity. The scared fighter may be the best fighter, but the scared learner is always a poor learner.
Ah—now you think I have been lying to you, that this is only a story. It has a king in it. And while a story with Death might be true, a story with a king in it is always a fairy tale. But remember, this comes from a time when kings were as common as corn. Plant a field and you got corn. Plant a kingdom and you got a king. It is that simple.
I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled.
I've always been super aware that we could all die at any moment. This ceiling could fall. I could trip and land on this pen I'm holding. I could choke on my cold pasta lunch. I could be attacked by that pigeon eying me from my window sill. I could be shot...by a stranger...who lost something in their heart. Remember death is real. It's not scary. Living is the thing to care about. Don't hold grudges. Smile and make others smile as often as possible. Don't let jerks run the world.
I talked to my nephew today, he's afraid of the dark. Or was. I said, "Why are you afraid of the dark? In the darkness we find many beautiful things!" He said, "Like what?" And I said, "Like the Moon and the stars! We would never see them without the darkness! And have you ever been to a movie house before? Do you think it would be as fun if it wasn't dark inside? And all the creatures under the sea— they're always there, swimming beautifully in the darkness of the waters!" And he said, "Bad things like ghosts are just fairy tales, right?" Then I told him, "Even if there were ghosts all around, they would not change in the darkness; they would be just the same as they are in the light. Look, we live in a world where there are bad things but there's no difference between these things whether they are in the darkness or in the light! Everything good and bad is always there; what changes is what and when we can see them. And the darkness brings us many beautiful experiences that we wouldn't be able to see in the light." And then I gave him a piece of my son's meteorite stone, I told him that whenever he feels afraid in the dark, he can hold onto it and it should remind him that many beautiful things, like that meteorite, come from the darkness so there's really nothing to ever be afraid of.