‘If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.’ Marcus Aurelius said that. He must have known a thing or two about fear. He was one of the last of the stoics and probably died in a pandemic. I guess, he fully accepted that the pandemic in his time wasn’t under his control at all but the way he behaved in response to it very much was.
I have carried this quote with me for a long time to suddenly hear a different ring to it. Like so many at the moment, I am exposed as well to this new threat we all face: Getting infected by a hideous and very infectious new disease which affects older people more than young, people with existing health conditions more than the healthy. On average anyway. Carl Brandauer’s doctor leaves him in no doubt here. ‘It’s unlikely you survive it’, the doctor said this week.
So, in Marcus Aurelius’s words, my estimate of the thing is pretty serious but in terms of revoking it all, I have means to deal with it so deal with it I do and I must, however hard I find it all.
I try not to sit and fret. Easier said than done. But I have a roof over my head and the room I live in is warm. I have food, a bed and a clear head. I am fortunate really. To remind myself daily first thing in the morning of a few blessings in my life is a practice I adopted a long time ago. It is currently a rather desperate exercise but it too helps.
Like everyone else’s, my life has its extra challenges right now. How to deal with younger adults coming home from wherever they have been, how to stay save, how to stay healthy, how to keep sane in involuntary isolation? These are formidable matters to deal with but I hold on to Aurelius’s words. I try to consider things. I try to keep things in perspective. It’s really not easy but I try.
This is not about fear of doing something one is fearful of. It’s not about being daring or not. It’s about being sensible, composed and trying to find the courage to move on, step by step and fighting the naggingly persistent question inside ‘what’s the point of it all, I might get it anyway’.
To live with that fear is very difficult and many conversations I had last week with colleagues, readers, friends and family inevitably turned to this subject. What I found so helpful was that everyone admitted their unease and the same deep fear and that made it a shared experience and gave relieve to both sides. We are in this together, for better or worse.
We have the power to revoke this, our estimate, of what causes us this pain, called fear. I am no master of it but thank you all for your kind words in recent days which helped me to get a little better at it.
And I wish you fortitude, courage and strength in keeping calm as well. I have discovered a few good books of late which I am currently reading. It’s my way of distracting myself and let my inner self deal with the fear. It is my sincere hope and wish you find yours.
I also find that remaining idle breeds doubt and fear within me whereas staying active, however difficult that is, gives me a little more confidence and builds courage to carry on. And that courage helps me to muster the power Aurelius speaks of, the power to revoke my estimate of the thing which causes me the pain of fear.
Take care and good luck