The day I really understood fear was many years ago.

That night I came home from a long day at work to an empty flat. I unlocked the door, stretched my hand, and flicked the light switch on. Nothing. Darkness. The light just didn’t come on. This particular flat was notorious for blown fuses. I pressed a few buttons on my cell phone to allow me to use the light to check the fuse box. Sure enough, the fuse had blown. Although smart enough to figure that out, I was not smart enough to be able to repair a blown fuse. It was close to 11 pm in the night. Too late to call someone to sort this out, I thought. I’d have to manage the night in darkness.

Luckily it was one of those winters in Mumbai where the nights were pleasant. So not having a fan or an air-conditioner on was not a big deal. With the help of my cell phone – it was too late to even bother looking for a torch, I managed to get by and in a few minutes was in bed, and asleep. In any case, what else did you need at night, but darkness, I thought wryly.

Then it happened.
Right in the middle of the night. A thud. A thump. A creak. Cre…eak. Soft padding sounds.

And roused from really deep sleep, I was gripped with fear.

It’s black. Dark. Pitch dark. Deepest-dark-of-the-night black. Like a thick-black-blanket-over-your-head dark. Like the blackest-hole-you’ve-never-seen black. It’s fear.

It’s a lump-in-your-throat feeling. A dry-mouth sensation. A pit-in-your-stomach moment. A sudden-wrench-of-the-heart spasm.

It envelopes you in a shroud. Clasps you with a death-like grasp. Renders you immobile. Leaves you blind with eyes wide open. You cannot see because all around you is black. And all inside you is blacker. And your mind is paralysed. It cannot think, it cannot do. It’s cold. It’s sub-zero. It’s frozen with fear.

Fear comes to us from a strange place. From within. Nothing external. Nothing tangible. Nothing you can touch. But something that touches you, all over… grips you in a stranglehold, and never lets you go.

I know when fear grips me. It’s like my hands are tied behind my back. My body pinned against the wall. My eyes blindfolded. And all of me covered in a cloak. I cannot move. And it takes everything I have to shake myself of the iron shackles that I am bound in, to break those deep black handcuffs, to free myself of the blindfolds shake myself loose of the deathly shroud and … and take one small step forward into… freedom.

Which is what we don’t realize.

The opposite of fear is not bravery. It’s freedom. It’s freedom from fear. Freedom from the shackles of paralyzing terror. Freedom from the binding grip of fear. Freedom, sheer freedom to do your will without nothing, no one, not even a thought stopping you.

So here I am. Alone. It’s pitch dark around me. It’s frighteningly scary within me. Fear has taken hold and I struggle to break free. The soft sounds continue. And then a thought occurs to me.
And I smile.

My cats! It’s just the cats, I think, playing hide and seek at night, their time to play. Ah freedom! I casually turn to one side and fall asleep.
And time and again when in grips of fear, no matter what the situation, I find a ‘just the cats’ explanation. And then…
I am free.