Fear is an emotion induced by perceived danger or threat, which causes physiological changes and ultimately behavioral changes, such as mounting an aggressive response or fleeing the threat. Fear in human beings may occur in response to a certain stimulus occurring in the present, or in anticipation or expectation of a future threat perceived as a risk to oneself. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis.Wikipedia
I was afraid, very afraid. We had decided earlier that night to push on into the dark rather than stop in Wilcannia. Local radio news had reported a possible murder, and a brutal attack on a resident and that police were still hunting for a suspect.
Wilcannia was a small outback Australian town with a population of around 500 on a good day. It was late January, and in outback Australia, it will be hot; it just depends on how hot. We had passed through the town around 10 pm that night, and it was still 35/95 degrees c/f – Around midnight that night, we were forced to stop.
Bill and I were two and a half days into our journey across Australia. It had begun early on a Sunday morning. I had little sleep getting home around 3 am; I had gatecrashed a wedding. Friends had a band. I had wanted to hear them one more time before I left Perth for four years, I had pretended to be a guest. It didn’t have as hard a time as I was afraid it could be. My mates had said it was a buffet reception and an expensive home on the Swan River, a large number of guests and no set tables. I dressed up and wandered around chatting with people. It was easy to hide. Just pretend to be on the other side of the family. Most people would rather talk about themselves in any case, so I kept the conversation focused on them and did not speak to long.
They had played exceptionally well that night, and I’d loved it and stayed away too long, forgetting about my journey the next day. I would pay a price; I’d also forgotten that I had to pack. I was 19 and leaving home to study at a college on the east coast of Australia. I filled that car; a Fiat 127, at 6 am with whatever I had thought I would need, said a tear-filled goodbye to my Dad and driven to Bill’s.
The little Fiat 127 wasn’t a big car, and with a motor of only 0.9 litres, it wasn’t going to be a fast trip. We had decided to camp at night and take a small tent. Our big fear was ‘Roo’s, Kangaroos, hitting one of those at speed can damage a truck, let alone my small “beast”. If we hit one, it would be all over, and if it came through the windscreen, we might be kicked to death.
‘Roos tend to be active early evening and into the night and rest during the day. One of our good friends had helped me mount a spotlight on the roof, with a range of over a kilometre, that should give us enough warning.
Rather than stop the first night, Bill convinced me he was ok to drive through the night while I slept. Remember I had only 3 hours slept the night before. Wilcannia was going to be my night. It had taken longer than we expected to get to Wilcannia, and with the news reports, we were keen to keep going.
Australia is well known for its droughts and flooding rains, and this summer was no different. Over the previous couple of days around Wilcannia, a smattering of rain was hoped to break the drought. What it meant for us was – Kangaroos.
We had driven just a few kilometers, and they started to appear. To this day, I have never heard or seen of this many on the road surrounds at one time. Rain falling on the road runs off to the sides where it gathers, and grass will quickly grow. It is the first place ‘Roo’s feed after a drought. Bill and I were barely about to travel at more than 10-20km/h. At one time, we counted over forty kangaroos in less than a kilometer around ½ mile. After a couple of hours, we had barely travelled any distance. On reflection, we decided to wait it out and find a place we could pull off the road, pitch the tent, and get a few hours of rest. The roos would be gone after a few hours, and resting was a better use of our energy and time; we still had another sixteen plus hour of travel ahead. We found a truck pull-off area – known now by the fancy title of The Baden Park Rest Area; it has water tanks, picnic benches – very civilised. But not then. When I was nineteen, it was just a cleared area on the side of the road with some fencing separating you from some sorry looking farm paddocks. It was a long way from anywhere and a long way from anyone else.
We did our best to pitch the tent, discovering that I’d forgotten to bring a hammer to use on the tent pegs. We had made do with the car tire jack. The dirt was as hard; the pegs had barely gotten more than a ¼ of the depth into the ground. But it had been enough. It was then we realised how tired we were and fell asleep lying on the hard ground.
Three hours later, I was instantly awake. I had heard something outside the tent.
I looked across at Bill; he was still sound asleep. I lay there, hoping that I made a mistake. It had sounded like a footstep. Or could it just a ‘Roo or another small animal? We had zipped up the tent flaps to keep out any unwanted creatures, aka snakes, so it wasn’t easy to take a peek outside. I also wanted to be sure if I had heard something. There it was again…. The slight grinding of gravel under the foot. I didn’t think it was an animal as the sound was too “hard”, not like an animal paw’s soft sound on the ground. Was it someone trying to approach the tent to catch us unawares?
I couldn’t just wait and see. If there was someone outside, the tent offered no protection and given we had closed ourselves in was more of a trap then a haven of safety.
Two people are better than one – so I decided to wake up Bill. But of course, I didn’t want to alert whatever, whoever, was outside to us stirring, so I had to wake up Bill without him making a sound.
I slowly soundlessly rolled over on my side, faced Bill and ever so gently covered his mouth with my hand. He woke up with a bit of a start by thankfully no sound; I mouthed enthusiastically, “SHHHHHHH”. Bill, like me, was now instantly awake.
With my mouth pressed against his ear, I whispered – “someone outside the tent – creeping around – listen!”. Bill, too thought he heard something too. We were quite sure of it.
What to do?
I figured we had no chance of staying in the tent, and that surprise was a weapon, at least for a few seconds – might be enough. Better to fight outside than wait to be attacked. A least there would be two of us. I decided to strike first—no use waiting around.
Ok, the first move – did we have a weapon we could use? Fortunately, we had put the car tire jack in the tent. I took one look at the bottom of it, with its jagged based designed to get a good grip on the ground – that would make a mess of a face – if I could get that close.
Then we had to get out of the tent. Small exit – one person at a time – not good!
And right now, the tent was zipped tight – zips make a sound when the unzip, and they can jam. So slowly, ever so slowly, I moved the zip almost one tooth at a time, inching its way to the top of the tent. Bills a bit bigger than me, so I had to give him enough space to get out behind me as soon as I made the burst outside. I didn’t want to be outside on my own with Bill struggling to get out of the tent – he may make the difference to whether we both survive this or not.
We were ready. The flap was open, the carjack in hand, with a nod at Bill, I leapt outside into the night. With every ounce I could muster, I yelled like a man possessed swinging the jack in a wide 180-degree arc with Bill charging from behind.
As David J. Schwartz Ph. D covers in the first chapter of the classic “The Magic of Thinking Big” – Action Conquers Fear.
Most of us are not fighting for our very existence every day. Most of us are not in wars or have significant threats to life; our fears and the often paralysis that it leads to are not that significant.
We fear what people think; we fear change, fear learning something new, and even manufacture what someone is going to do should we act. It stops us, holds us back, saps our confidence.
Fear is an asset and a liability.
Some of us have far too much confidence and go running where angels fear to tread and ignore the warnings that fear does bring.
But in most cases, it is better to act; To create movement. It is always easier to steer a car that’s moving than a parked vehicle; even if it is going in the wrong direction, it is easy to change direction and get on the right path. Inaction leads to stasis, depression, lack of vitality and, at times, physical pain in our bodies.
Whatever you fear today, do something, even if it is something small – you will feel better straight away. Once you have the feeling, act on it again, use its momentum to propel your life forward.
We all are afraid, acknowledge it, thank it for its input into the situation – decide whether it is holding you back or saving your life. Then act.
That night as I lept out into the night with Bill thundering in behind me, we attacked our greatest fear. Treat to life.
There was no one there – not a soul, not a rat, a small animal, or an enthusiastic kangaroo – Nothing. We had created our demons.
Fear is a fantastic thing; it can motivate us to change, to become more than what we are. With the help of imagination, make mountains out of molehills, even create murdering strangers just outside our tents just waiting to destroy us.
The simple act of acknowledging our fear and reduces its impact and, in some cases, make it disappear completely.
Waiting for the roads to clear from kangaroos was a good acknowledgement of our fear, for the sake of a few hours waiting the danger was significantly reduce. Our lives were protected. The fear of what people may say at a gate crashed wedding proved to be unfounded. Some people think I’m cheeky and brave.
Chasing away an imagined fear taught me a lesson never to be forgotten.
Till next time.
The Magic Of Thinking Big. – David J. Schwartz Ph. D