Thoughts on a List of Fears

Thoughts on a List of Fears


Given that fear is the opposite of love, see phobia, see philia,

what is the opposite of obsession? The opposite of opposition?


Some fears are purely rational:

helminthophobia, the fear of being infested with worms,

hydrophobophobia, the fear of rabies. Also myxophobia,

the fear of slime, closely related to okraphobia,

a subset of lachanophobia, fear of vegetables.

Then again, there are words for fears of some of the finest things in life,

things without which our memories would be empty:

lakes, garlic, music,

meteors, colors, opinions,

flowers, otters, foreplay,

infinity, flutes, northern lights,

solitude, dancing, the heart,

justice, the sea, home,

stars, dawn, daylight,

knowledge, taste and the hearing of good news.

I do not understand anablephobia, the fear of looking up,

or the fears of chins, knees, hair, glass and names.

Of course, some fears are so rational, life without them would seem foreign.

Going to school, even learning itself? Petrifying, especially when the teacher

leaves the room just as you try the new task on your own, without a net,

and everyone is watching, waiting for you to wobble and fall.

Fear of snow makes sense for anyone living at the top of a steep hill,

for anyone with a slight case of cheimaphobia, fear of the cold,

leukophobia, fear of white, or taphophobia, fear of being buried alive.

For those who have been in love more than once, mnemophobia makes

perfect sense. At the first bars of a ballad, Memory can reduce one to tears.

Perhaps I even have a slight case of paralipophobia, fear of neglecting duty,

given the countless nightmares I have had, in which the pets I was caring for

died horrible deaths, left alone in hot, dry apartments for a week. Maybe

that’s why I played halfback instead of forward—a form of performophobia.

Some have climbed the pyramid of terror, from fear of pyramids, say, to

the fear of terror, then the fear of words, then of thoughts, then of the mind and last,

of the self itself.

I have not seen the words for the fears my friends report: fear of buttons,

of possums, insomnia, fundamentalists. Where is the word for the fears of

abortion, abortionists, and abortion protesters? Where are the diagnoses regarding


mosquitoes,  April 15, drunk drivers, divorce, insurance forms and panic attacks?

Falling sleep behind the wheel, ebola, identity theft and cactus? The phone ringing

in the middle of the night?

Perhaps single words, even those as elegant as athazagoraphobia, the fear of being ignored,

and angrophobia, that of becoming angry, do not suffice to encapsulate the fears that drive me:

fear of simultaneously landing on the ground, hearing the cracking ankle, and feeling shooting pain,

fear of thinking obscene thoughts about Jesus in church,

fear of misspelling the publisher’s name in a news story,

fear of people who love me more than I love them.

And where is fear of dropping the baby, fear that this perfect little gallon

of potential will be spilled, landing on her head, glassy eyed,

institutionalized for life, never logging her first laugh, all my fault?



Thanks, Phil Chen and Puget Sound Speaks, for letting me blog for them this year!




One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Ray Brown on December 1, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I liked these lines:
    “Then again, there are words for fears of some of the finest things in life,

    things without which our memories would be empty: “


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