Below is a submission to the This I Believe series that I have posted several times before. I have read it to family and friends, colleagues and classrooms. It is something that profoundly touches me and I think it all the more powerful when listened to. A few short minutes if you’d prefer that can be found HERE.
If it is accepted that the life span of the human being of our time averages approximately seventy-five years, I will, in a short while, reach the end of what may be the first third of my life. In the course of deliberately walking into the past of myself I’ve made many discoveries, some of them encouraging, even happy ones. But it disturbs me deeply to also discover that I’ve spent so much of this first portion of my life being afraid of almost everything and that I have spent so much of the remaining time in learning the myriad tricks there are by which one may hide one’s fear from others. It disturbs me to realize that in the seemingly harmless act of deluding others into believing me to be unafraid, I have also deluded myself.
The sudden awareness of the enormous part which fear has played in my living has been particularly shocking to me because I’ve always thought that I loved life in its fullest sense of loving it as I could, and I’ve always thought that I believed intensely in the experiment of living it. I believe that when we permit ourselves to fear, we negate the chance we are each given to contribute through the unique patterns of our respective lives to the meaning and validity of all life. I believe that in merely being alive we have a tremendous responsibility, and that the responsibility is not only to our separate selves but to one another.
I believe it is in fear that we commit the crimes of intolerance and prejudice and what seems to me to be perhaps the saddest, most grave crime of all, our resistance to change. Afraid, we fail to see that the change is the natural and good fruit of knowledge and growth. We cling to the familiar because it is familiar and seems, therefore, to be secure. We butcher the unfamiliar and slaughter justice with the same stroke. Frightened, we seek love only for ourselves and forget to search for love in ourselves.
In fear, we restrict the membership and close the doors of our churches. We court the man who is willing to chant the service least alien to ours. In fear, we make the manner of worship and the name by which a man identifies his god more important than a man’s knowledge of his need, and his striving for faith and a power of good greater than himself.
As children we are taught the visionless prejudices of our parents. We are taught and we, in turn, teach our children perhaps not the same prejudices, but each of them common to one another, for they are born and sustained in fear. I want a child of my own, and I want them to be unafraid. I believe that for him, freedom from fear can have its beginning now in me because I feel so strongly that in the living of my life, I have a responsibility to all life. Because of the child not yet conceived in me, I believe I must grow enough today to face yesterday’s mistakes.
I believe tomorrow is hopeful and that if I am to recognize tomorrow as promising, I must not fear its being different from today. I believe I must try with all I know—and without fear of all I don’t know—to never really be afraid again. Each of us has known guilt; each of us is alone. I believe that guilty and alone, we are all here together.
Actress Phyllis Kirk starred with Vincent Price in the horror film “House of Wax,” and with Peter Lawford in “The Thin Man” television series. She later worked in public relations at CBS. Throughout her career, Kirk was active in various social and civil liberties causes.