Each spring the Regents juniors and seniors write a Reflective Essay, or a Reflection. The students write essays all the time, but the Reflection is different. While most essays the students write are analytical, highly structured, persuasive, and reason-oriented, the Reflective Essay is speculative. Its aim is to ponder, to play with an idea, to share a conclusion after bringing the reader along on the journey toward that conclusion. If a Reflection makes an argument, it is because the author feels strongly about it more so than because the author is convinced of its truth.
I am particularly proud of Haley Duke’s Reflection, which is an essay-length meditation on her experience of fear. Haley is one of our rising seniors, and she always does fine work — but this essay is an especially striking creation. As I share it with you below, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Finding Strength to Focus on Fear
By Haley Duke
Fear is like a fire. Something sparks it into existence, but unlike a fire, a fear is not meant to be extinguished immediately. It could be a chemical fire that burns forever or maybe just a grass fire—small, hidden, but still there. That fear may even be a forest fire that consumes everything in its path. Or maybe it is a combination of all three. The worst fears, though, are the ones we fail to recognize even as the smoke fills the sky.
I used to be afraid of bad dreams. Many nights a particular nightmare clouded my sleep and I had to endure disturbing images of spiders amidst a deserted town. I was always alone in this frightening place when the most comforting thing would appear: my mother. Then she would disappear; quickly ripped away and replaced by something horrifying. When I felt I could no longer stand this haunted loneliness, the town would flood. The water would rise and rise and rise until I felt it envelop me. Then I drowned. The next morning I would wake up early and trudge down the stairs. I never made it very far though. I always ended up sitting at the bottom of the stairs, staring out the front windows of my home and watching the sunrise. I remember the sunlight streaming through the glass, pushing away the darkness of the night and the darkness in my heart. I saw specks of dust floating in the air and imagined they were my fears flying far, far away. I haven’t had that nightmare in over five years, but that doesn’t mean I never feel like I’m drowning in my fears. For they are my fears. Mine to control. They are a part of me just like my strength is a part of me.
Most of us are eager to show our strengths, but whether we like to admit it or not, we all are afraid of something. And I bet we all have more than one fear. I once read a book in which a group of people, called the Dauntless, were the risk takers of society. They were brave, but not truly fearless. Each of them had to go through a drug induced simulation in which they discovered and tried to overcome their greatest fears. Most people had somewhere in the range of twenty to thirty fears, but one boy only had four. I’ve always envied his lack of fear but I’ve also wondered what I would encounter if I took that test. Would I be able to narrow my fears down so that all I needed were my hands to count them? Let’s see: zombies, sharks, broken bones, handcuffs, serial killers, failure, depression, betrayal, death, and loneliness. There… ten of my greatest fears. I have recognized them.
After we recognize our fears, we become so worried about overcoming them, that we rarely realize how they change us. My dad is a big believer in recognizing fears and observing how they affect our actions. Whenever I am ranting about something, he calmly looks at me and asks, “What are you afraid of?” Most of the time, I find this question annoying; however, I come to realize that at the heart of my anger or sadness or pride, is a fear. Fears do that… they hide themselves. They sit in the eye of your storming emotions, surprising you when you least expect it. Perhaps I was angry because I feared being wrong. Or maybe I was sad because I was afraid that something horrible might happen. Maybe I was prideful or mean because I feared my own inadequacy. Whatever the situation, I find fears affecting my life. I am not a coward, though. My fears are natural insecurities experienced by any human being. My dad says that it takes strength to admit your fears and recognize the fears of others. It’s a superpower of sorts. We can use them for good or they can become our kryptonite. Everyone has these superpowers, so if you understand the fears, you understand the person. What I have finally realized is that there is nothing wrong with being afraid and I should use fears to my advantage.
Brave people feel the fiery heat of their fears, accept it, and move on. I don’t know if I’m one of those people, but I do know that the first time I ever acknowledged that my nightmare frightened me, was the first time it no longer scared me. If we thought of our fears as a part of us—a part of our strengths—maybe we could better understand not only ourselves but others.