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   Chapter 2 SHAPES OF FEAR

Where No Fear Was By Arthur Christopher Benson Characters: 6712

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Now as I look back a little, I see that some of my worst experiences have not hurt or injured me at all. I do not claim more than my share of troubles, but "I have had trouble enough for one," as Browning says,-bereavements, disappointments, the illness of those I have loved, illness of my own, quarrels, misunderstandings, enmities, angers, disapprovals, losses; I have made bad mistakes, I have failed in my duty, I have done many things that I regret, I have been unreasonable, unkind, selfish. Many of these things have hurt and wounded me, have brought me into sorrow, and even into despair. But I do not feel that any of them have really injured me, and some of them have already benefited me. I have learned to be a little more patient and diligent, and I have discovered that there are certain things that I must at all costs avoid.

But there is one thing which seems to me to have always and invariably hampered and maimed me, whenever I have yielded to it, and I have often yielded to it; and that is Fear. It can be called by many names, and all of them ugly names-anxiety, timidity, moral cowardice. I can never trace the smallest good in having given way to it. It has been from my earliest days the Shadow; and I think it is the shadow in the lives of many men and women. I want in this book to track it, if I can, to its lair, to see what it is, where its awful power lies, and what, if anything, one can do to resist it. It seems the most unreal thing in the world, when one is on the other side of it; and yet face to face with it, it has a strength, a poignancy, a paralysing power, which makes it seem like a personal and specific ill-will, issuing in a sort of dreadful enchantment or spell, which renders it impossible to withstand. Yet, strange to say, it has not exercised its power in the few occasions in my life when it would seem to have been really justified. Let me quote an instance or two which will illustrate what I mean.

I was confronted once with the necessity of a small surgical operation, quite unexpectedly. If I had known beforehand that it was to be done, I should have depicted every incident with horror and misery. But the moment arrived, and I found myself marching to my bedroom with a surgeon and a nurse, with a sense almost of amusement at the adventure.

I was called upon once in Switzerland to assist with two guides in the rescue of an unfortunate woman who had fallen from a precipice, and had to be brought down, dead or alive. We hurried up through the pine-forest with a chair, and found the poor creature alive indeed, but with horrible injuries-an eye knocked out, an arm and a thigh broken, her ulster torn to ribbons, and with more blood about the place in pools than I should have thought a human body could contain. She was conscious; she had to be lifted into the chair, and we had to discover where she belonged; she fainted away in the middle of it, and I had to go on and break the news to her relations. If I had been told beforehand what would have had to be done, I do not think I could have faced it; but it was there to do, and I found myself entirely capable of taking part, and even of wondering all the time that it was possible to act.

Again, I was once engulfed in a crevasse, hanging from the ice-ledge with a portentous gulf below, and a glacier-stream roaring in t

he darkness. I could get no hold for foot or hand, my companions could not reach me or extract me; and as I sank into unconsciousness, hearing my own expiring breath, I knew that I was doomed; but I can only say, quite honestly and humbly, that I had no fear at all, and only dimly wondered what arrangements would be made at Eton, where I was then a master, to accommodate the boys of my house and my pupils. It was not done by an effort, nor did I brace myself to the situation: fear simply did not come near to me.

Once again I found myself confronted, not so long ago, with an incredibly painful and distressing interview. That indeed did oppress me with almost intolerable dread beforehand. I was to go to a certain house in London, and there was just a chance that the interview might not take place after all. As I drove there, I suddenly found myself wondering whether the interview could REALLY be going to take place-how often had I rehearsed it beforehand with anguish-and then as suddenly became aware that I should in some strange way be disappointed if it did not take place. I wanted on the whole to go through with it, and to see what it would be like. A deep-seated curiosity came to my aid. It did take place, and it was very bad-worse than I could have imagined; but it was not terrible!

These are just four instances which come into my mind. I should be glad to feel that the courage which undoubtedly came had been the creation of my will; but it was not so. In three cases, the events came unexpectedly; but in the fourth case I had long anticipated the moment with extreme dread. Yet in that last case the fear suddenly slipped away, without the smallest effort on my part; and in all four cases some strange gusto of experience, some sense of heightened life and adventure, rose in the mind like a fountain-so that even in the crevasse I said to myself, not excitedly but serenely, "So this is what it feels like to await death!"

It was this particular experience which gave me an inkling into that which in so many tragic histories seems incredible-that men often do pass to death, by scaffold and by stake, at the last moment, in serenity and even in joy. I do not doubt for a moment that it is the immortal principle in man, the sense of deathlessness, which comes to his aid. It is the instinct which, in spite of all knowledge and experience, says suddenly, in a moment like that, "Well, what then?" That instinct is a far truer thing than any expectation or imagination. It sees things, in supreme moments, in a true proportion. It asserts that when the rope jerks, or the flames leap up, or the benumbing blow falls, there is something there which cannot possibly be injured, and which indeed is rather freed from the body of our humiliation. It is but an incident, after all, in a much longer and more momentous voyage. It means only the closing of one chapter of experience and the beginning of another. The base element in it is the fear which dreads the opening of the door, and the quitting of what is familiar. And I feel assured of this, that the one universal and inevitable experience, known to us as death, must in reality be a very simple and even a natural affair, and that when we can look back upon it, it will seem to us amazing that we can ever have regarded it as so momentous and appalling a thing.

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