How do you face something that is fearful to you? What do you do when confronted with something that is fearful?
The differing reactions people have to facing fears are even more varied than those faced one summer night when we were camping. We had to deal with an object that was realistically fearful and harmful, an adult wild black bear. The reactions of those involved shed interesting lights on human nature.
My siblings and I were asleep in our tent, as my parents were in theirs. My father was awakened by the noises of the bear rooting for food in a trash can near the tent my siblings and I were in. We hadn’t used this can, considering it unsafely positioned, but others had prior to our arrival, and the bear was looking for a meal.
My mother woke with the distinctive soft snapping sounds of my father’s pistol case as he unlocked and opened it, then as he removed his 357 magnum pistol from its holster and quietly loaded it in the dark. She whispered to ask what was going on, and why he had his gun out in the small hours of the morning. My father quietly and calmly explained the situation, and told my mother not to be upset. She told him he couldn’t kill it with a pistol, and would only make it mad. He said his intent wasn’t to hurt it, but to use the gun’s loud noise, only if necessary, to scare it. He knew, and had taught all of us kids, bears don’t like loud sudden noises, and these usually cause them to leave.
Eventually, much to my mother’s relief, the bear moved away from our site and toward the other sites. Much to my mother’s dismay, my father put on his pants and shoes, took his gun and went outside, intending to follow the bear from what he believed to be a safe distance, and scare it if it threatened anyone.
The first thing he saw was our dogs, in the car. The Pointer, an elderly fellow, was asleep. The young Dalmatian was awake, wide-eyed and shivering in fear. She whimpered when she saw my father. The bear had made a
mess next to our tent, but had left the 5 of us kids alone, and we remained blissfully asleep.
Closer to the lake, 2 more dogs were sleeping outside their owners’ tent on their leads when the bear came to their site. My
father heard the German Shepherd, growling low and threatening the bear. In the moonlight, he could see the Shepherd was preparing to attack if the bear came closer. The Pomeranian was awakened by the Shepherd’s growling. He lit into a long series of loud and high-pitched yaps! The bear, startled
by the noise and disliking its sudden and shrill tone, took off up the nearest mountain, as fast as it could go, as my father dove into some brush to avoid it. After the bear was gone and the campground again quiet, my father picked himself up, dusted himself off and went back to their tent to tell my mother of the bear’s hasty departure. He then unloaded and put his gun away, safely re-locking its case, and falling back into his much-deserved and much-disturbed night’s rest.
That night, when confronted by a very real danger, most of us in that campground slept unaware, including our Pointer. How often do we sleep when the dangers of financial ruin, or relationship crises or leadership failures or any other disasters loom on our horizons? How often do we slumber, even when there is real danger someone is trying to wake us up to face?
Some wake up, but are more or less paralyzed by differing levels of fear. My mother, often uncomfortable with the wilder parts of a wilderness environment, stayed in her tent and tried to convince my father to stay with her. Our Dalmatian shivered and whimpered in the car, instead of barking. How often do we stay paralyzed by our fears, when we could and should do something, even if it’s just to shout out a warning? We need to get up, move and do something, because doing nothing is very often a certain method for making a bad situation worse.
Some get up and threaten the fears, like the German Shepherd. He threatened to fight back, but didn’t follow through, or at least never had a chance. But as I learned early in my parenting journey, a threat is useless unless there is follow through behind it. Just growling only makes for noise, not effectiveness.
Others, like my father, get up and patrol on guard. They prepare for a fight, and usually hope one isn’t necessary. They are sheepdogs of life among herds of fearful sheep, who mistrust them because of their ferocious nature that is so like wolves, never realizing how well-protected they are with them.
And others just get up and do something about it. That Pomeranian did something! That it was so effective was more a testimony to the natures of Pomeranians and bears, than to the courage of the dog. While it’s not always true, sometimes doing something is all it takes. As Mark Twain so rightly said,
Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.
Let’s take a lesson from that Pomeranian, face our fears head on and be people who do something about it!