Let’s face it: I’m scared.
It isn’t one thing; it’s everything. It’s Trump’s lies and depravity. It’s his affection for QAnon’s paranoia and White nationalism’s violence, for terrorizing immigrant children while assaulting Tony Fauci as “a disaster.” He smirks at the image of armed struggle when he tells his ignorant thugs to “stand back and stand by.” He denies climate change while the West burns. And we’ve just gotten started here.
During the day, I’m furious. At night, I’m a shivering mess. Oy. My stomach hurts. It couldn’t get worse, and it just did.
Yesterday I remembered that 30 years ago, when I first learned I was HIV-positive and was waiting to hear results of my then-little sons’ tests, I knew fear like this. Making their lunches, reading their books, finding their toys, tucking them into bed — beneath everything was this snake-like undulating fear just waiting to strike. It never went away.
In the decades between here and there, I’ve known some fear. After AIDS came cancer, then my mother’s illness and death. I was afraid. But for sheer, constant, agonizing fright, nothing has rivaled what I felt waiting for my boy’s test results, and what I feel now. I physically gag at the thought Trump could be re-elected.
I rarely revisit my own books or speeches, but I did yesterday. For unimportant reasons, I re-read the talk I gave at Houston’s Republican National Convention (August 19, 1992), “A Whisper of AIDS.” I was surprised to discover that among things I discussed that evening was fear.
Recognizing that in the ’80s and ’90s, congregations, communities and even families were brutalizing those with AIDS, I called out manufactured fear as the goal of bullies, an intentional strategy for social torture. “It is not you who should feel shame,” I said to those with AIDS. “It is we — we who tolerate ignorance and practice prejudice, we who have taught you to fear.”
I said that fear does not mean we lack courage. I wanted my children never “to think as I once did that courage is the absence of fear. I want them to know that courage is the strength to act wisely when most we are afraid.” I remember now.
For all my anger at Trump’s evil, it has not occurred to me that my fear is his delight. He means to intimidate. He’s a bully. He wants me to shiver and quake. His affection for White violence is intended to wake me in a cold sweat. It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: make me terrified. The more I live in dread, the more I’m paralyzed. I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing. This from the woman who stood before the world and said that “courage is the strength to act wisely when most we are afraid.” Did I tell you that my stomach hurts?
So here we are, two weeks from V-Day. I still hear the hissing. I still feel the fury of rage and the panic of fear. But, so help me God, I am not going to let that narcissist drive me to cowardice.
I’ve been thinking I needed to get rid of the fear, and I’ve been wrong. If getting rid of fear is my goal, I’m going to fail. I need to get not to fearlessness but to courage, however fearful I may still be.
So let the fear come. Let me shiver and cry. It’s a momentary victory for the coward in the White House, but his win won’t last. I’ll reach for a dose of courage, the power I and we have to acknowledge our fears while fighting for decency, honor, justice and equality. If I can’t do everything, I can do something. Write a check. Drive someone to the polls. Write an essay. To “act wisely” at this point is to keep our wits about us, never assume an uncertain victory, and struggle to garner every single vote we can.
Fear be damned. Give me a little courage.