With Halloween coming up literally tomorrow, it’s got me thinking a lot about fear.
This is in large part due to the fact that this past month I’ve been so immersed in the horror side of everything that it’s all I’ve had on the brain. I wrote a review for Until Dawn yesterday and spoke about the rawness, realness, and simpleness of the fear present in it, but I also touched on what it means to be afraid, what it means to be human, and why, I think, one of the first steps to adulthood is a visceral exposure to fear.
Just in writing that it really had me thinking a lot about the nature of my own fears and why I think the way that I do about them.
A lot of people love horror content. October rolls around and it’s all horror movies and haunted trails and their everything gets a little bit darker, even if it’s only for the month. They enjoy it–and why shouldn’t they? I’ve always been interested in horror stories, real and fake–I think there’s something mesmerizing about them–but for me it’s always been a thing where by consuming that content, by reading some Creepypasta story, or ten, it sends me into a spiraling creep-out where I just feel uneasy about everything.
Granted, this has gotten a lot better as I’ve gotten older, but there was a period where the slight mention of anything scary would shut me down completely. I’ve always blamed my overactive imagination for that and I still do now. My desire to flesh out everything, to think it out completely, to make it real, in my head or on paper, and create for it a life of its own, has never made serial killer or demonic stories sit well with me (but who do those sit well with really?) simply because of where it goes in my mind. It’s a bummer, and someone may say, “Turn it off. Shut it down. Don’t think about it so much,” but it’s a creative thing–it doesn’t work that way and that’s how I’ve ended up here.
Because of that, because of the playground fear’s always played on in my mind, I’ve always grasped my true fears a little bit tighter, often to a fault. Spiders are one of them, heights are another. Drowning, floating through space, and being buried in a tight box underground sit snugly at the top of the list too, but the highest up fear, the one that is probably the root of the rest, is my genuine fear of death.
I don’t think I’ve ever explained this completely, and I won’t go too deep into it now, but I do have a deep and strange fear of death, one that was never present when I was little and only really showed up at some random time when I was older. There wasn’t a trigger, there wasn’t an experience. It just…was kind of there, but when it did show up, it manifested itself in causing me to be a little more afraid than I was before of everything that was around me. Food could kill me, that mole could kill me (both the brown one on my arm and the brown one underground), and so could that car, and that bird, and that street sign, and blah blah blah–I’m exaggerating a little bit, but you get what I mean.
Sometimes it’s been embarrassing to feel that way–to be worried about something health related, only to have to wait a month to see a doctor about it and it be absolutely nothing, or to have to tie power cords around a doorknob to the garage door because the lock broke and you’re too afraid to let it sit until morning.
That isn’t a way to live.
Fast forward to about a year ago when I began planning out the first tattoo I was going to get and death was firmly on my mind. I’d always known that my first tattoo would be related to that fear, that it would be my way of playing death off and taking away some of the strength we sometimes, and I often have, put upon it. I just didn’t know what I wanted it to be of, how I wanted it to look, who I wanted to do it, and so on and so that’s why, even though I knew, it took me until I was 23 to actually get my first one. Which is fine. Great even.
The primary thing I hear people argue about when they are talking about why they would never get a tattoo is not knowing they will like it a year, two years, 10 years from now and they couldn’t possibly commit to something like that.
I agree with that idea. It is a big decision to put something onto your body and hope to God you’ll still at least have some warm feelings toward it when it’s sagging a foot below where it was drawn, resting on the handles of your walker–but it’s never deterred me. It’s just made me want to be sure.
I figured out, slowly, what it was that I wanted, how I wanted it to be depicted, what exactly I wanted it to stand for until I had it sitting ready for me to take up onto my body.
Again, I will try not to go too too deep, but I settled on an owl (this was back in March. It isn’t brand new. It’s just relevant now), a Barn Owl to be specific, with the reason being, in large part, due to what owls often stand for in cultures other than ours and how they’ve been viewed throughout history.
The western world, since Greek times, has seen owls as these keepers of knowledge, as beacons of wisdom, thanks in large part to the goddess Athena, goddess of wisdom, and her frequently used symbolic owl. That’s spread to now and today and owls are depicted with graduation caps on, with scrolls and glasses, giving off an air of intelligence over anything else, over anything predatory more often than not.
Other cultures though haven’t always viewed them so kindly. Native American, Central American, and African cultures have often had mixed views of owls. Some, yes, saw eared and horned owls as keepers of knowledge, but the earless ones (of which the Barn Owl is a part) were seen as harbingers of darkness and often times death. Some of these reasons were only common superstitions, but some were due to how they acted and what they looked like.
If you’ve ever heard or seen a Barn Owl, they’re kind of disturbing. Hollowed eyes, a heavy hooded appearance, almost like the Grim Reaper himself, and Barn Owls especially–and this is different than the majority of owls–have a more haunting cry. Where an owl we’d imagine would hoot in the treetops, Barn Owls are known to screech a cry that pierces the air through which it is projected.
Holy sweet Jesus.
They’re like animal embodiments of the children out of The Shining.
Here’s a happier one to cleanse the palate a bit.
Okay, let’s move forward.
For me, the tattoo was something I wanted to represent how fickle and shallow death is, to be and depict death as nothing more than an image or ideal. And this comes from my deep faith and relationship as a Christian, in which I’ve always come to know and believe that death doesn’t have much of anything to throw toward me since I’m centered in something greater.
To be so fearful of something that I shouldn’t be afraid of is disingenuous to God; it shows a lack of trust. And as much as I’ve come to fear it, the idea, the intangible and abstract concept, it’s something that I have to face in some way and adjust how I view and recognize it.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7
The reason for all of this, the reason for the talk about fear is because it is so human to fear. It’s so natural. Our greatest preservation instinct is for our own safety, and death and harm and the things that threaten us cause us to put up some steep walls quickly. But fear is little else than an idea, like Halloween, like bed-sheet ghosts and toilet paper mummies–they’re an embodiment of our greatest fears, presented jovially so that we have an opportunity to disarm them. And it isn’t bad to be afraid. It’s good, for a lot of reasons, but it’s something we have to keep a cap on, something we have to properly contain, else it terrorizes the entire town.
Ray said it best:
The light is green, the trap is clean.
Put it in the right place, channel it the right way, size it up, don’t fear what you don’t need to fear, and trust God to take care of the rest–simple as that. Anything else is too much.
Happy Halloween everybody.