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Cocktail Fear

May 18th, 2018 by Stephen Bauman

In the corner of the room something more than the usual cocktail party chatter was shaping up. I was surprised to hear this group of five millennials talking seriously about fear—an unusually serious turn for an otherwise rather frivolous party. Inviting myself in, I heard a quiet but intense exchange about how fear was the major block to any significant endeavor. Sylvia added that it was the major block to any small endeavor as well.

Michael observed that on a purely instinctual level, fear had a positive role. If one were to encounter a lion, say, a fear-induced adrenaline rush would bring the mind and body to alert readiness. He then drew the distinction between that sort of primal physical fear and the more routine existential fears that plague us.

They agreed that beyond fear’s helpful role at setting certain limits to behavior and serving as a warning system for impending danger, the problem was that fear seemed to lurk behind much of the human experience, like a hulking amorphous blob. Wasn’t there an old horror movie by that name—The Blob? Some fear was normal, healthy, but a lot of fear, maybe most, was the opposite.

A quietly brooding Christopher then blurted out that fear was only about death.

The mention of death being an obvious party faux pas stopped the conversation; a returning waiter with another round of drinks broke the tension. Silence held sway for a moment as the casual friends considered whether the conversation had gone on long enough. But then Christopher quietly inserted a story about a serious car accident. He had suffered serious spinal damage and for a time didn’t know if he would regain his bodily functions from his waist down—he had been completely paralyzed. (I hadn’t noticed the metal braces on his legs until that moment.)

He said that his biggest issue in recovery wasn’t anger that something bad had happened to him; instead, fear was the great obstacle. This surprised him, because he had always been rather fearless, at least physically. But lying prone for several months forced him into a brooding analysis of his life – what it was and what it wasn’t – and for a good period of time he was overwhelmed by fear that fed an enveloping depression.

The conversation had now crossed an invisible threshold for some, who began trawling the less threatening waters around a table laden with hors d’oeuvres and where the chatter was bright and appropriately shallow.

A couple of us hung in with Christopher, though, who, discovering my profession, continued his tale all the way into an admission that this experience of fear led to a spiritual awakening. He wasn’t sure how that had happened exactly, but he was certain that had he not found his way to God he would not be alive today. That’s what catalyzed his realization that at the bottom of all fear lay the specter of death.

Not your usual party chat. I get that sometimes. Thought I’d share it with you.

My time with Christopher came to a screeching halt when a guest overturned a tray laden with red wine. We all rushed to the aid of our stricken host, Christopher included, who was clearly very, very glad to be of help.

Stephen Bauman

Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bauman is the Senior Minister at Christ Church.