F: Today’s Deb-Blog Has Been Brought to You by the Letter D for “Defending Your Life” and the Letter F for Fears: Face Your Fears and They Will Disappear
Albert Brooks’ movie “Defending Your Life” delivers a powerful life message, while still being sweet and hilarious. It is at the top of my favorite afterlife movies, in part, because of its message that life is about overcoming fear. Whether you have a belief in life after death or not, the message of overcoming fear is universal and, for me, the greatest life lesson. It was released in 1991 so you’ve had 25 years to enjoy this pic but if you haven’t, I highly recommend it.
Brooks wrote and also plays lead character Daniel beside his romantic interest Meryl Streep, whom he meets at a post-life weigh station, where each individual’s life is on trial in a mock court hearing, all set in a sort of theme park atmosphere. There’s plenty to see and eat (and not gain an ounce) between the court appearances, even time to fall in love. So the court has selected various days of Daniel’s recently departed life to flash on a screen before his eyes. Each scene depicts various times he’s been afraid and they review how and whether he overcame his fears.
Because of an older cousin who mistreated me as a child, I developed a paralyzing phobia of snakes. Now, before you apply the Freudian interpretation of this fear, I can assure you there is none. But it was life debilitating. It was irrational. It was so elevated, it kept me from doing the smallest of outdoor activities. A few years ago, I encountered a snake by my back door, which created such terror, I needed someone beside me when I mowed my lawn. I vowed if I ever had insurance that covered mental health (pre-Affordable Care Act), I would get the help I needed to eradicate this phobia. And so I did. I met with a therapist about a half-dozen times and through systematic desensitization, I overcame my irrational, emotional reaction.
That transition helped me in other areas blocked by fears. I stopped staying in debilitatingly oppressive jobs or unfulfilling relationships. because I processed my greatest fear, I was able to recognize that same, albeit less elevated, hesitation. I could see more clearly if my decision making was based in a fear of failure and, thereby, keeping me from making otherwise smart advancement. I have no doubt becoming a public speaker and taking improv theater classes are the result of overcoming fear. I can prove I’ve evolved because as an undergrad, I avoided a major I was attracted to because it required a public speaking course. Today it is the place I feel most comfortable. Checking one’s motivations and actions against what you fear is foolproof if you want to develop and mature.
There is a difference between fearing to take chances to help you advance or to live a normal life and being reckless or carefree, consequences be damned. And Brooks brilliantly discerns the difference, which I appreciate. I’ve never liked playing sports, in part, because I just don’t enjoy competitive games that have a violent undertone. Plus, I can’t afford risking injuring my body. I need my body for more important things. So, like Daniel, I don’t fear sporting accidents, I just don’t like the inconvenience of participating in them. He describes brilliantly in “Defending Your Life” his snow mobile accident.
“This is not about fear. This is hate. This is a rotten contraption. It heats up like a toaster oven. I burned the hair off my thigh from my knee to my crotch! Singed it right off. I don’t know…if the seat was leather or lined with fur…but years of rotting, drying out and getting wet…Mine smelled like an old sheepdog. Also, it’s very, very noisy. You don’t find that out until the second hour when you can’t hear anyone. You get off and your friends are in a silent movie. And fourth, pardon me, but your balls vibrate for three weeks afterwards.“
I’ve got a long way to go to clear up my life for when that great weigh station calls my court date, or at least I hope I have time, because I still have places to go and things to overcome. I also acknowledge that as a white woman, I haven’t had to fear the police like people of color. I live in a safe neighborhood so I don’t have to fear random bullets coming through the walls or being assaulted. I live in a country that isn’t being invaded, unless you count whatever the GOP is doing to our collective intelligence this election cycle. But I also can’t afford to have the kinds of fears like some in my community who can afford to insulate themselves in their fears by simply paying others to do things for them. I literally can not afford to play it that safe. The less you have, the fewer insulating fears you can afford.
Overcoming adversity or internal fears is inspiring. I leads to you true self, your purpose, meaning. Look at Oprah. She overcame unimaginable hardships as a young girl. She was once demoted at a news job because they said she was unfit for television. She overcame. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination and having no original ideas.” Decca Recording Studio rejected The Beatles because they didn’t like their sound and said they had no future in show business.
The inventor Thomas Edison said it best. “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”