Michael Ellis: Fear

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Sometimes are fears are ridiculous. Sometimes not. Either way, it’s how we cope with them that matters. Michael Ellis has this Perspective.

On a Florida vacation in my youth, I bought one of those coconut heads. You know, the ones with shells for ears, funny nose, and sunken eyes. What can you really do with one of those things but look at it every once in a while? So pretty soon I put it away in my closet.

I'll never forget the first time I went to bed with that closet door accidentally open. Tossing and turning, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I peeked out from the covers and saw it. The coconut head sitting mute, staring at me. I was frozen with fear; it was moving, the eyes were watching me. What could I do? I tried closing my eyes and talking myself out of it- just ignore it, go back to sleep. Hah! No way. So, I opted to run quickly and flick my bedroom lamp on, bathing the room in light. Then I ran to the closet with my eyes closed, and slammed the door. It worked! I was saved from the head's dark power.

And, I thought, as a grown up I would lose those gut-wrenching fears. But I still have them. Most of us are afraid of the dark, those unknowns in our life: What if our partner left us? Or we lost all our money or we get cancer? Or, like we are witnessing now, there is a war? Certainly, these are real things to be concerned about. But I think that overwhelming, all-consuming dread originates from a much deeper place—the fear of our own death. We just develop more sophisticated coping techniques than slamming a closet door.

For example, in my family of origin it was denial. There is no coconut head. In fact, there is not even a coconut tree and we never went to Florida. Other people cope by using the bright light of logic to illuminate the head entirely, and rationally drive all those dark places away. Others turn to religion or drugs for solace.

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I have tried all of them; none worked well for long. To deal with that metaphorical coconut head I have to look out from the covers and admit that I am afraid. I have to sit with that; my heart and my eyes wide open. I then begin to relax, accept, and the dread lessens. I just may be a little more ready for my own death. Because it’s coming.

This Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist. He lives in Santa Rosa.