Last week in this very space I brought up the subject of fear, and how maybe at my age it's something I can put behind me. I'm not quite sure I entirely believe that, at least partially because I don't believe anyone, regardless of reputation, is well and truly fearless: the truly flinch-free human has yet to be born. ("Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me," said the Son of God [Luke 22:42].)

One chap who had a reputation for fearlessness was Don Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, Carvajal y Are, Conde de la Mejorada, Marquis de Portago (1928-1957), the subject of a famed Ken W. Purdy retrospective in Car and Driver in the year of his death, and of a pointless rhetorical exercise by me in 2005. Fearless? It perhaps ran in his blood — the Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of Portago's ancestors, was shipwrecked on Galveston Island in 1528, and walked all the way to Mexico — but Portago said otherwise:

"I'm often frightened. I can get frightened crossing the street in heavy traffic. And I know I'm a moral coward. I can't even go to a shop and look around and walk out without buying something."

Purdy apparently didn't think Portago was pulling his chain, and neither do I; sometimes, the scarier the prospect, the better we face it.

But then:

[K]nowing I'm going to die isn't what scares me; what scares me is knowing I'm going to die alone. Some day, more likely some night, that "finite number of breaths" will be reached, everything will come to an end, and no one will know until two or three days later because some mundane task wasn't performed on time, some phone call wasn't returned, or, most absurdly, because this goddamn Web site wasn't updated.

At least, not being in the grip of any fatal condition other than life itself, I think that's the way I think. I may decide otherwise when the doctors read the verdict — assuming, of course, I'm in a position to hear it, since obviously I don't expect anyone to be taking notes for me.

There are times when serving as one's own support mechanism is healthy, even invigorating; there are times when it's just this side of sheer agony. The latter occasions are more than sufficient to suggest that I should seek a partner, if only to help me over the rough spots. But just reading that sentence persuades me that it's the wrong thing to do: my motivations are quite obviously selfish, and what do I bring to the table, anyway? I can't expect someone to help shoulder my burdens, such as they are, and I feel I have no right to ask such a thing. Is this a manifestation of fear, or something even worse?

And if the latter, when do I get to outgrow it?

The Vent

#511
  1 December 2006

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