An Irrational Fear
I can’t remember a time when I was not afraid of bees. Whenever I have to explain to someone why I am afraid of bees I feel like a fool because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense even to me. I’m not allergic to bees. The worst thing a bee can do is sting you unless it’s a Killer Bee in which case it could kill you. It has never been about what the bee could do to me that has driven my fear. I’m afraid of bees because I’ve always been afraid of them. Everything they do scares me. They make that buzzing sound which has been implanted in my head as something that I need to be afraid of. They sneak up on you and sometimes you don’t even know that they’re there. They look scary by which I mean they look like they want to hurt me. There are many bees in the world but the one that has always brought upon the worst fear in me has been the biggest bee: the bumblebee.
One of the most frightful events in my long history with bees actually occurred at a bookstore when I was a very young man. I was in the children’s section and I saw a book where the author was making the bee out to be a friend. What a fraud this author was perpetrating upon the world! Kids don’t know any better, so why wouldn’t they take the advice of the author and attempt to befriend the bee? This could be a life or death decision on the part of the child and the responsibility for this decision could be directly traced back to the author who had the mistaken inclination to trust the bee. Nature seems quite unthreatening when you’re a child until adults tell you about things like tornadoes and hurricanes. Yet people still go around chasing tornadoes and flying into the eye of a hurricane. Why engage in such madness? I’ve yet to hear a compelling reason but then again adrenaline junkies have never made much sense to me. Nature should be an unthreatening thing. Nature should bring out the best feelings we have inside of us but like the tornado, the bee exists to destroy our feelings and wreck our experiences.
My grandfather took me outside when I was four or five years old and we went to play in the garden. I enjoyed digging in our garden because my mother was never all that fond of gardening and thus our garden was always in a sad state of affairs which meant that Grandpa and I could do what we liked in it. We were out digging in the garden, which was one of my favorite childhood activities, when a bee came around intent on destroying our somber afternoon in the garden. Grandpa faced down the bee and simply swatted it away. When the bee approached me I ran. Running never shakes a bee, in fact, it almost encourages the bee to chase you. I’ve never run away from a bee and successfully lost it which makes me wonder at times why I do it. The simple answer I suppose is that I feel as though I have no other viable option. Grandpa was sitting near the fence digging against this gigantic rock that we had in the garden when he tried to explain to me the irrationality of my fear.
“The bee is just as scared of you as you are of it,” he explained. This just seemed like another example of the kind of pro-bee propaganda that I had seen first-hand at the bookstore, but because he was my grandpa I listened.
“You’re not going to get anywhere by running from the bee,” he told me. “The best thing you can do is let it buzz around you so it can figure out on its own that you aren’t a flower.” That seemed like cogent advice until the bee landed on my skin and started walking around as if the skin were not attached to my body. It was when the bee was crawling around on my skin that I began to freak out. I swatted it away and took off running across the yard. I made my way back to the digging site slowly and I noticed that Grandpa was wincing in pain. My heart began thumping in my chest. I was having my first panic attack. I sat down next to Grandpa as he did something with his hand. What exactly he did I don’t know because I felt like I was going to pass out. Grandpa grabbed his crutches and once he was on his feet extended his hand out to me. It was a rare occurrence for Grandpa to help me up it was he after all who had Polio not me. Grandpa saw that I was in just as much pain as he was though and knew that we had to get out of there together. When we got inside the house Grandpa walked into the kitchen and told me to stay in the living room. Grandpa never wanted me to see him in pain. That was the last time Grandpa ever talked to me about how bees didn’t serve as a threat to me though he would at times mention in passing that bees weren’t as bad as I made them out to be. I believe that last part of what he was saying. Bees aren’t the biggest existential threat to me, but they certainly make it into my top five.
The Inherent Problem of the Seeker
When I was in elementary school the prospect of more than ten years of additional education seemed daunting. Looming over this prospect was the implied notion that college would be required for whatever career I may wish to enter. Throughout my elementary school career it was more or less assumed that I would become a lawyer. The reason behind this assumption was that I liked to argue and frequently engaged in argument with people around me. Teacher, I would later find out, were making fun of me with this reference. Law was not seen by them as an enviable or in any way honorable profession. In hindsight, the fact that there were teachers making fun of me in elementary school bruised my ego. However, my career in academia is still going strong almost twenty years later and I’m sure teachers probably continue to make fun of me. I used to worry about this to no end until I got into high school and I just stopped caring about nearly everything around me. There is a certain value in simply not caring anymore. At the same time we all have something that we care about even when it seems like we have nothing of value in our lives. The problem with having things we value while not actively seeking something worthwhile is where many people run into trouble.
The amount of people who are aimlessly wandering is enormous yet we all continue on with our lives as if wandering is normal. To some degree wandering is something instinctual to us as people. We are all descended from hunter-gatherers who were, at a very basic level, nomadic people. Evolution has occurred, but contrary to what we might otherwise believe we still hold traits that our forefathers held as relatively primitive people. Simply because we adopt new traits does not mean that we completely let go of the things that defined us earlier as people. We change and adapt to our environment but change does not mean that we let go of everything that came before us. Although I consider myself to be a different person that I was ten or twenty years ago some of the same things bother me and though some of these things do not bother me as much now as they once did we are all made of the same human cloth. None of us wants to made fun of but it happens nonetheless. I have, over the years, come to embrace education rather than fear it. Much as wandering defined the hunter-gatherers that came before me; education has come to define me and my existence. As the great philosopher Pete Townsend said: “they call me the seeker and I’ve been searching low and high.” We are all seekers; we just need to discover what it is that is worth it for us to stop wandering for. For some this might be a person, for others it is a purpose, for many it is a way of life, but we all find definition in something, in someone or for those rare few; somewhere.
The big problem with being a seeker of any kind be it of information, knowledge, or happiness is that most people you come across on your journey will not embrace you or your attitude indeed they may scorn you for it. People accuse me of being a shrink sometimes because I really want to understand and I don’t just want to understand one thing I want to understand everything. Most people are naturally disinterested apparently. Where this has gotten me into trouble over the years is with people. I always seem to upset certain people. Usually I upset authority figures. I have never had a great relationship with the police for instance and there are many reasons for this I’m sure, but one of them is that I simply want all the facts and the police do not like handing over all of the facts about just about anything. There may be legitimate reasons for this just as not all intelligence findings can be presented to the public by the CIA for reasons of national security is a reason for not declassifying documents pertaining to Area 51 for example. Eventually I found out that my problem with people was related to an issue with Asperger’s syndrome.
Asperger’s is just one of the many, many things that are wrong with me. I used to just say: “hey, I’m a writer” and people would say: “oh, okay” as if that were a sufficient explanation. I still use the writer explanation when I don’t want to get into it, but I do make an effort especially with those who know me to explain what Asperger’s is and how it affects me. The thing that upsets most people is the lack of eye contact, something that some interpret as a sign of dishonesty. It’s always been difficult making eye contact with people. My father used to implore me to “look people in the eyes,” but I simply couldn’t do it. Something happened when I was forced to stare at people’s eyes, later it was diagnosed as a panic attack. The only way I can make eye contact comfortably is if I know someone really well or if I do a series of breathing exercises beforehand (something I actually do between classes at school.) Many people seem to believe that my knowledge about Asperger’s combined with my desire for information makes me an expert on human psychology. That’s not true, in fact quite the opposite is true. I have great difficulty in trying to find the value in human relationships. Some might find that previous sentence disturbing. Occasionally someone will compare me to a serial killer or something because I don’t describe myself as a naturally extroverted person and have a difficult time interacting with others. What I usually say to that is most serial killers were extroverted and extremely good with people, after all, how do you think they got away with it for so long?
I don’t devalue the power of interaction with other people, it’s quite essential to our existence. Where I have trouble and where I get into trouble is assessing how to feel in various social situations. It’s something that is very difficult for me. A lot of people make the assertion that everyone just knows how to feel in social settings when in fact many people are uncomfortable in such circumstances. Some say that “you feel how you feel,” the connotation in that sentence being that people with Asperger’s do not feel anything when in the company of others, something that is far from the truth. The conflict that I’ve experienced throughout my life is respecting people when so many demean me and in some instances de-value my existence. This is one of the reasons I got along so well with my grandfather. Both of us had mutual respect for the other which was something that the rest of society seemed unable or unwilling to give us. Grandpa was judged for his physical handicap whereas I am judged by my Asperger’s. He said something to me once though that gave me hope and I want to repeat it for the benefit of those going through similar circumstances. Grandpa told me that who we are is something that we determine not something that someone else determines. My Asperger’s does not define my existence just as Polio didn’t define Grandpa. We do live in a society however that judges us based on our peculiarities not on what makes us exceptional. We’re taught what is normal early on in our educational careers and are therefore trained to pick up on what is not normal at a very early age also. This is why kids get picked on and this is why certain people are picked first for sports teams. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to change the way we educate our children. I’m merely pointing out that our differences play into the social definition of who we are.
The Human Bumblebee
It always seems strange to people when they find out I’m afraid of bees.
“Are you allergic to bees?” Many people ask. The answer is that I’m not allergic to bees but they frighten me as if I were allergic to them. It’s always been this way. I find the buzzing of the bee in combination with the way a bee looks to be a frightful thing. There are others out there who are afraid of bees there are some who are afraid of things like enclosed spaces, heights (something I am also scared of,) some are afraid of spiders others are afraid of getting in a car crash. What we, as human beings, are afraid of may seem trivial and many times it is but that does not change the fact that there is reasoning behind this fear. After everything that has happened to me over the course of my life I’ve become almost as afraid of people as I am of bees. I don’t expect someone to come up to me and ask: “are you allergic to people” despite the fact that my answer my very well come out as a “yes” though that would be a response borne out of frustration more than anything else. Much like bees, people are unavoidable and the potential for carnage at the hands of another human being is infinite in comparison to that of a bee.
Indeed it seems to make more rational sense to be afraid of people than it does to be afraid of bees. There are so many people who have been hurt by people that it is surprising to me that there are not more people out there who are afraid of people but people disguise their fears in many different ways. Many people disguise their fears behind prejudices. Many people are opposed to immigration reform because they are afraid that they will lose their job if more people are allowed to move into our country. Some people are afraid of African-Americans and Latinos because they believe they commit crimes at a higher rate than whites.
Many people are afraid of other people simply because they are different than them and it is here that I believe we can make some progress. My fear of people comes from a number of things. I’ve been burned by people, I’ve been physically and mentally hurt by people, indeed when I look at it the number of negatives comes close to the number of positives when I look at how my life has been impacted by people. Nobody seems willing to give me a chance because of this or that. Many people simply say: “something is off here” and many times they’re right. However, just because something is off doesn’t mean that something is wrong. Just because I don’t look you in the eyes when I talk does not mean that I’m being dishonest, in fact the people who will cause you the most harm oftentimes have no problem lying right to your face.
We are a judgmental people. Why this is the case goes back hundreds of years and opening this can of worms brings about many sad stories and issues that many do not want to delve into. The same way we judge a bee we also judge a person. We don’t know if someone is going to hurt us all we have are our instincts. The problem with relying exclusively on our instincts however is that knowledge can improve a situation where intuition and oftentimes insecurity can so easily take over a situation. Many times we say that knowledge is power and we go to our electronic devices for proof that because we have access to information it is always correct. The truth of the matter is that any one system of evaluation is going to be flawed even the human system. We can take pains to find out what the problem is or we can find ways to solve the issue that’s bothering us. I think, more times than not, it is something like a bee fluttering around that causes us to be afraid and rather than confront our fears we give into them.