The peril and power of American fear

Eveyln Cabrera pays her respects in San Bernardino. The horror of terrorism can blind us to blessings.
Eveyln Cabrera pays her respects in San Bernardino. The horror of terrorism can blind us to blessings. GETTY

The U.S. is in the midst of the longest unbroken string of monthly private-sector job growth in its history, nearing six full consecutive years. Jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, are so low they technically can’t get much lower. And at 5 percent, the nation’s unemployment rate is near a full-employment level.

But none of it resonates because of our focus on a chronic illness we call terrorism. It’s the kind of disease that has no cure and requires constant, specialized treatment that even if administered successfully can mean a diminished life.

That’s why it doesn’t make Americans feel better to know that the abortion rate is at an historic low, as is the teen pregnancy rate.

It doesn’t matter that overall crime remains far off its peak and gun homicides have been cut in half since the ’90s.

Or that it has never been a safer time to be a police officer, despite the ugly headlines.

Or that our roads have never been safer and the institution of marriage has never been stronger as divorce has been decreasing for decades.

Or that the Confederate flag no longer flies over the South Carolina Statehouse.

Or that lightning is more likely to kill the average American than a member of ISIS.

Or that the national deficit has been cut by two-thirds over the past few years and more people than ever have access to health care.

President Obama said freedom is more powerful than fear. I’m not sure that’s true, for the battle against a chronic disease has a way of blinding us to everyday blessings as a country, and in our personal lives.

Sometimes reacting that way is healthy. The blessings won’t matter if the disease kills us. That’s why there are moments our focus should be singular, our response fearful, our reaction fueled by the kind of rage that will focus us on the fight.

But if we linger in those moments of fear and anger too long – if we don’t remember to remove the blinders blocking our view of enormous blessings – our attitude becomes just as deadly as the disease. It becomes a clear and present danger to our well-being.

I’ve been living with the auto immune disease CIDP for two years and was only recently declared to be in remission. That was after being in a wheelchair and wondering every night if I’d have use of my limbs on a given morning.

That was after surviving a treatment that almost killed me and experiencing some of the darkest days of my marriage. When I had to tell my wife to locate the life insurance policy as I lay in a hospital bed, I couldn’t think about the two beautiful children I produced with her or the hundreds of people praying for me.

I’m much better now – I ran a half marathon in October – but am not who I was before diagnosis, not as fast, not as strong, not as idealistic. Every time I have a cough or feel a twitch in my arm or experience extreme weakness in my left foot, I mourn the body CIDP robbed me of and wonder if that illness will once again awaken from its slumber within my bloodstream.

I can despair that the illness will always be with me, no matter how well the treatment works. Or I can rejoice knowing that though it has forced me to change in profound ways, it has not been able to alter the core of who I am – and that I have a say in determining if it ever will.

Bailey is a former columnist and editor for the (Myrtle Beach) Sun News. On Twitter: @ijbailey