August 25, 2007

That Sinking Feeling

"Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the Unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into."
-Wendell Barry, naturalist

On my way home to Elmira, NY last night, I listened to a podcast of anti-consumerist guerilla artist Keri Smith, whose Wish Jar Journal is a near-constant source of inspiration to me. She mentioned this quote by Wendell Berry, one of her favorite thinker/writers, and I have been thinking this morning about the instances and uses of dread in my life.

I went to a party earlier this year that included amongst the guests one garrulously drunk person. As soon as I saw this person in the kitchen of my friend, I felt that sinking feeling, but I ignored it, as I really wanted to be at the party. By the end of my stay, the sinking feeling had ripened into a general sense of unease and discomfort, and I left the party thinking, "Should I have done something different in response to that sinking feeling?"

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Our son's accidental 11-second entrapment in a wooden chest when he was three – bad mommy points; it probably felt like an hour to him – has left him with a lingering distrust of enclosed spaces. The prospect of a long elevator ride gives him "that sinking feeling," even if the ride is one that will take him up!

Dread is a warning, or at least a call for heightened attention, but the Berry quote gives me a different way to think about what happens next. When is pushing past that sinking feeling a kind of victory, and when is it foolhardy? Is there any way of knowing?

10 comments:

gautami said...

"Dread is a warning, or at least a call for heightened attention"

I too think that way...

paisley said...

i used to thrive on the unknown,, the hunt the capture the thrill.. and now i have mellowed to where i am in fact afraid,,, if the unknown... and i must say... i liked it better the other way...

Hope said...

Interesting.? What happens when we have nothing left to know? When the unknown has been logiced out and there are no longer any dark places to frighten and inspire. When faced with an unkown the decision is "do I have to?"; then there is really no choice, forward movement in life means facing the unknown paths with a prayer and hope and accepting what comes.

I think.

Kamsin said...

I guess the thing about the unknown is that you can never known if it will be an unknown of the good kind or an unknown of the bad kind but the alternative is staying where it is safe and known and never moving beyond your boundaries. Personally I'd rather take a risk than look back on things wondering what if. When things backfire the consequences are rarely as bad as fear would have you imagine.

Fledgling Poet said...

Fear of the unknown is my biggest challenge...it's a tough one to overcome!

JHS. said...

Wonderful use of the quote. We can all relate to those feelings and, as paisley said, I think we move further and further into our safety zones as we age.

forgetfulone said...

Interesting quote. The sinking feeling for more is more of an after-it's-too-late rather than dread-something-happening kind of feeling. I liked your post because I hadn't thought of it that way.

tumblewords said...

It's so hard to know. And it's difficult to be right and knowing all the time. You did a great post based on the quote by Mr. Berry (one of my faves).

Patois said...

I like your question at the end. I think there's no way of knowing until it's over. Thanks for sharing the Berry quote.

lisrobbe said...

Love Wish Jar Journal too! Hopefully, life will always present unknowns to us that are not necessarily scared unknowns, but positive ones as well. I cannot imagine having nothing left to learn about.