Edwidge Danticat on “the dark realities of the moment”

While putting together PEN America 10: Fear Itself, we asked several writers to comment on the issue’s theme -- to write something brief about what they were afraid of, or how they've confronted fear in their work or in their lives. We printed these in the journal along with newspaper headlines from the past year about some of the fears that have been particularly prominent lately. We’ve put about half of the responses up online, including the one below from Edwidge Danticat.

When FDR said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he also said, “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” I fear not being able to deny the dark realities of the moment. I fear an absence of fear, the kind that leads to recklessness. When people have nothing to fear they can act carelessly, irresponsibly. They can Ponzi-scheme away people’s livelihoods and retirement funds without giving it a second thought. I fear global warming. If polar bears can’t survive, do my two little daughters even have a chance? I fear the silence that allowed these things to worsen, the gradual boiling of frogs that Al Gore talks about in An Inconvenient Truth. I fear that I am one of those frogs. I fear another terrorist attack, like the kind that happens in other countries all the time, the kind that residents of besieged cities eventually get used to and learn to live with. I fear world hunger, because it would mean genocide for people in countries like my birthplace and homeland, Haiti, the oft-designated “poorest country in the western hemisphere.” At the same time, I fear cloned meat, genetically engineered crops, and outbreaks of salmonella. I fear peanut allergies and MSG. I fear plagues of locust, rivers turning into blood. I fear “the withered leaves of industrial enterprise.” I fear the closing of borders, each country redefining its identity by excluding others. I fear right-wing conspiracies. I fear left-wing conspiracies. I fear guns of all kinds. I fear cameras in public toilets. I fear small talk at parties. I fear uncaring little children who grow up into uncaring little adults. I fear the end of the word—not the world, which in the end can probably take care of itself, but the word, which we all have to be around to keep alive. I fear that when FDR said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, he might have been kidding, but no one got the joke.

Edwidge Danticat is the author of numerous books, including Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist, and most recently, Brother, I’m Dying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. She lives in Miami with her husband and daughter.


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Michele E. said...

WOW! I fear all of those things too. Thanks for putting all of them together or maybe no thanks. I want to help so many people, places and causes; not just the few I'm involved in. But, I also fear, after seeing or hearing about so many catastrophies, crimes on people, countries, the environment & calamities, that why have I had such an exciting, unimaginable, problem-free life? I'm not asking for problems but, have I fallen through a crack? I am truly thankful for my life yet, it adds to the fears. I've read many of your books. They flow like songs of life and happenstance. Congratulations on your awards and knowing what to do with just one of the "Ten Talents".
Michele E. Hutchinson