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FEAR

    Once fear went on holiday.
    Just packed up and headed out one sunny morning for parts unknown. Those who’d been the familiars of fear were stunned at this uncharacteristic move. After all the time they’d spent together, how could it just up and leave like this without warning or farewell? How were they to get on with their lives in its absence? What would a day without fear be?
    Missing fear reports soon appeared in newspapers and on the airwaves across the country and on telephone poles in every neighborhood, but to no avail. The longer its whereabouts went unaccounted for, the deeper the public uneasiness grew. People had grown accustomed to its presence in their lives. Fear of danger and harm and failure and rejection, of course, but equally of success and responsibility. Fear of strangers but of one’s neighbor as well. Fear of the powerful and fear of the homeless. Fear of the immigrant and fear of the superpatriot. Fear of personal temptations and of their satisfaction in like measure. Fear of the known as much as the unknown. Fear, in sum, as the one familiar constant of life as people knew it.
    And who could blame them for feeling apprehensive about a future without fear? When day after day fear had been the ceaseless refrain of those they looked to for wisdom and guidance. Fire-and-brimstone preachers, officials and politicians racing each other from temerity to panic and back again, peddlers of gold shares against the next market collapse, public health alerts about the latest drug-regulation fiasco or failure to meet the newest pandemic threat, oil companies’ alarms over caribou herds breeding out of control and/or terrorists doing the same, style mavens warning about the crushing embarrassment of not being in fashion next season, worries about hair loss or erectile dysfunction or botched liposuction, solemn counsel from pop psychologists on why kids don’t love their parents and none of their friends love them either so the whole lot better start “lovin’ yourself more” in self-defense . . .
    Simply getting up in the morning without some worry to give you that adrenaline rush necessary for coping with whatever uncertainties the rest of the day might bring was daunting. To say nothing of facing the night alone with one’s own demons. Worse than lashing out at the demons spied in others, for no victory was possible against private torment. Like Antaeus it always sprang back as strong as before, and how many had the power of Herakles against themselves? 
    Fear had never let the nation down, at least not until now. People’s entire existence might have to be rethought and all the old certainties abandoned. But new enemies and alarms and suspicions and torments and misgivings and doubts could take time to discover, to say nothing of how long it might be before one felt fully at home with them. The absence of fear wasn’t just inconvenient, therefore; it was a calamity.
    So when fear suddenly returned one day to its old haunts and habits, the relief of the citizenry knew no bounds. No explanation for fear’s absence was offered and none was asked. Who would be so foolish as to risk driving it away again with tactless questions? Parades were organized everywhere, complete with marching bands and majorettes and banners that read “Welcome Home!” New keys to city after city were handed over to fear with great fanfare.
    Everybody breathed a sigh of relief now that life was returning to normal.