FEAR

ZOOMER Magazine - - WISDOM - by Ian Brown

IONCE ASKED MY FA­THER, who served on var­i­ous se­cret mis­sions up and down the coast of Nor­way dur­ing the Sec­ond World War how he had rec­on­ciled him­self at the time to the fear that he might die. He was shock­ingly un­emo­tional about it. “I just fig­ured that if a bul­let had my num­ber on it, there wasn’t much I could do.” He played his odds. If he died, he died and wouldn’t know what he was miss­ing. If he didn’t die, as he said, “it was all gravy af­ter that.”

As he lasted into ex­treme old age, of course, he be­came less san­guine about his prospects. In his last months, ter­mi­nally ill with a 98-year-old cough­ing heart, he cried at ta­bles in restau­rants when he needed ev­ery­one’s help to get to his seat. I thought he feared the loss of his in­de­pen­dence, but I sus­pect now that his ter­ror was deeper and more unan­swer­able: he sud­denly saw how much peo­ple loved him and how much they would miss him, and that sweet pain made him afraid.

I never held his fear – of mak­ing oth­ers need him – against him. Fear is near the core of aging’s No. 1 les­son: that we have ab­so­lutely no con­trol over what hap­pens to us phys­i­cally. You can pre­tend – you can fast on al­gae and give up wine and ex­er­cise un­til your skin and bone are one – but that’s just fear turned inside out, a tiny hedge against ge­net­ics. None of us know what is go­ing to take us down and fail us last. But that fear is what makes us all the same and what makes us equal. It’s ac­tu­ally the door to lib­er­a­tion.

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