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March 21, 2022

Fear and Courage

Fear and Courage

This essay is a response to Andrew Mccarthy's New York Times piece Travel is my Antidote for Fear. As Covid eases, I’m heading out again.

Two common human emotions are very much in the news these days. One of these mental states is sometimes called the “stealth emotion” because people that are feeling it often do not realize that they are in fact experiencing it. That emotion is fear.

The other emotion that's getting a lot of air time these days is courage which is often inextricably linked to fear which often serves as a precursor to an act of courage. And yet courage is a tremendously undervalued quality and if asked to name the most essential qualities a good human should possess, courage often does not make the top 10.

But the many people widely acclaimed to have led heroic lives fully realize the value of courage. Former United States senator and presidential candidate John McCain wrote the book Why Courage Matters. Nelson Mandela said “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear.”

A prominent and compelling example of courage in todays’ headlines can be seen in the people of Ukraine and their almost breathtaking resistance to the military advances of the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin. Ukraine’s heroic and inspiring president, Volodymyr Zelensky, may at this moment be the most admired man in the world.

On the other hand, an interesting take on fear can be found in the attached New York Times article authored by Andrew McCarthy, now a travel writer and formerly the teenage actor and a member of the so-called Brat Pack with roles in the 80’s classics St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink and Weekend at Bernie's. Mccarthy’s article is titled Travel is my Antidote for Fear. As Covid eases, I’m heading out again.

In his article, McCarthy recounts that years ago on an extended solo trek across Spain, a deep discomfort had settled into his physical and emotional state. He writes, “Two weeks into my 500-mile hike I was anxious, lonely and miserable. Each day was worse than the one before. I felt like a failure and a weakling.” The next day, this feeling of deep despair suddenly lifted, and what the author realized was the cause of these negative feelings was fear, a fear that for certain reasons had begun to consume his life but that the spiritual trek he was taking through the glorious Spanish countryside had caused to dissipate. McCarthy was, for the moment at least, free. “Finally,” he thought, “here I am. And I wanted more of it.”

Connecting that experience to today's Covid-ridden existence, he writes, “As we enter our third calendar year under the cloud of Covid, I have been thinking a lot about fear, its destabilizing, paralyzing hunger — and about travel and how we need its transformative power more than ever. Despite the slogans early in the pandemic that “we’re all in this together,” so many of the people I know have felt so alone, so isolated, so trapped, and yes, so afraid.”

McCarthy goes on to explain that it was not fear that he was aware of experiencing in Spain but his traveling had removed that all-consuming feeling he was suffering from and he expected that by traveling more, he could build on that moment.

The great travel writer Paul Theroux said that “travel is optimism in action.” And we all know that optimism is a great antidote to fear.

McCarthy further explains that in battling Covid, we have been confronted with ever-changing restrictions, complicated and confusing testing protocols, and messaging that’s been inconsistent at best. But this has contributed by necessity to our attaining a certain flexibility of spirit that Passports has noticed in the groups who have traveled to Europe in recent weeks.

Delayed or reduced services and limitations that we have learned to take in stride at home during the pandemic have created in us adaptability that is an ideal quality for the road, where things don’t always go as expected. If you are willing to be flexible, the rewards of travel and the attendant spiritual and emotional replenishment still await.

And what does all this have to do with courage? There is a certain level of comfort (and safety) that attaches to staying at home for weeks on end. The prospect of venturing out of doors and even out of the country will possibly induce just a little initial discomfort and perhaps even require a modicum of courage. Not a lot; you're not skydiving from an airplane exactly but you are sitting on one and traveling thousands of miles away from home. So you are stepping outside of your previously involuntarily-imposed comfort zone. But if not now, when? The rewards of getting out there and experiencing the world again cannot be overstated. The feelings of being confined at home (and the stealthy fear that that may engender) you already know all too well.

Welcome aboard.

Category: Travel Inspiration


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