One of the biggest points of contention Lee and I had in our relationship was that he insisted on carrying a loaded gun with him wherever he went - to the grocery store, to the movie theater, on a romantic date. Everywhere. He did it legally - he had a license to carry a concealed weapon - but I felt uneasy and sometimes downright afraid knowing that a gun was strapped to his belt right there in the produce department.
Why? I would ask him. Why do you need to carry that thing everywhere?
His answer was very simple. He told me he was terrified he was going to be mugged someday, maybe attacked and killed, and having that gun made him feel safe.
But here's the thing: we didn't live in Oakland or New York City or Boston. We lived in a rural town in the middle of Oregon where crime rates are very low. Having lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles and Albuquerque, I could not comprehend his fear. The chance of someone getting mugged, raped, or murdered in this county is statistically pretty low.
However, as I thought about it over the course of our relationship, I realized I have had a similar experience. I spent over 10 years of my life being terrified of men. After experiencing sexual harassment, assault, and bullying on a regular basis at school, I grew up feeling like my body was not my own. I felt helpless and powerless. I was so certain I was going to be raped that when I lived alone in my twenties, I always kept knives in the drawer by my bed, a baseball bat behind my front door, and I barricaded the bedroom door with a chair before I went to sleep each night.
I realized that my baseball bats and knives and barricades were the same as his gun - a symbol of my overwhelming fear. I had, thankfully, grown out of that particular fear by the time Lee and I started our relationship. He, however, was still in the middle of his journey.
When our relationship ended, I immediately felt a release. I would no longer have to see that gun on the night table. I would no longer have to feel it against my hip when Lee hugged me. I would no longer have to pretend that I thought it was business-as-usual to carry a gun into a grocery store.
I didn't want to be afraid the way he was. (And coming from someone who has extreme anxiety, that statement is saying a lot.) I didn't want to look at everyone as a potential mugger or murderer. And looking back, I didn't want to be afraid in my twenties, either. I didn't want to fear that every man was a potential rapist. I didn't want to live behind a barricade with a baseball bat in my hand. And I sure as hell didn't want to have a gun with me everywhere I went.
And today…I still don't want to be afraid.
Yet, in a world this scary, that is a tall order. Terrible things can happen. We can come upon a friendly dog in the dark woods, only to discover later that it's actually a vicious, rabid wolf.
In the fairy tales, the heroes and heroines are required to confront the scariest possible enemy. Baba Yaga, Ereshkigal, dragons, the devil, etc. Not just any random murderers or rapists - the ultimate "big bad wolf." The heroes and heroines don't have weapons. They don't get to hide behind a barricade. They don't get to stay home and tremble under a blanket.
These heroes and heroines have to do exactly the opposite of what we try to do in real life - they have to disarm themselves, completely. Inanna had to literally strip off all her protection, ornamentation, and clothing in order to face her enemy sister. Only her vulnerability saved her. The Handless Maiden had to submit to the devil's every demand. Only her virtue saved her.
Granted, this life isn't a fairy tale, and leaving our front doors wide open at night isn't the answer. We must demonstrate prudence, of course. The evolution of the soul demands us to learn discernment, to develop our intuition enough to be able to identify and avoid potential danger.
But walking around with a gun strapped to our hip and barricading our doors at night is not helping, either. Actions like that literally summon and cultivate the energy of fear.
I don't have an answer. I don't know the right path. I only know what feels right from one step to the next.
I know we all have our own big bad wolves. I know we are all trying so hard to light up our space with our lanterns and that so many of us don't feel like the light stretches quite far enough to assuage our fears.
But somehow, it feels like there's an answer in that, in the knowledge that we are all afraid. There are so many of us in the dark woods, and our lanterns not only illuminate but cast shadows, too. We see the shadows cast by others and our eyes cannot give us the truth about what we see because the shapes are always shifting. Our eyes allow our fear to make up other stories - stories that aren't always accurate.
I'm trying to remember that behind the shadows is the light from someone else's lantern. And that the shadows they are casting might only be a reflection of my own fear.
All I really know is that I don't want to be afraid. And maybe…no one else does, either.