Dear Tom,

I’ve been thinking about fear this week. I’ve been puzzling over two facts. First, that our fears are one of the things that motivate our efforts for political change. And second, that people fear very different things.

This prompted me to think about what I fear. I drafted a partial list (these are not ranked):

  1. The sudden tragic death of my husband or one of my children. My brother died in his sleep in his late-thirties leaving a wife and four children. The sudden death of a spouse is something I fear. The death of a child is, of course, the stuff of nightmares.
  2. The college that I work for closing because of financial collapse. I fear losing the only job I’ve had in my professional career and having to try to sell a house in a community in which the major economic contributor has just gone under. I’m in administrative meetings where we talk about how tight the budget is. If, hypothetically, the governor of our state is successful in directing massive amounts of state financial aid toward public universities rather than private ones and a quarter of our entering freshman class chooses to go to a state university, I doubt my college would survive.
  3. Cancer. My mom died of undetected colon cancer. I know lots of people who have cancer. It scares me.
  4. The future of my children. Will their lives continue on healthy and productive pathways? Will they keep their faith in God and remain connected to the church?  Will they go to college or find something productive to do with their lives and be able to support themselves financially? Or, will something happen along the way (sexual assault, mental illness, a foolish choice) that will send their lives careening off a proverbial cliff? I’ve seen it happen.
  5. Heights. I’m really, really, scared of heights. I don’t like going to the tops of tall buildings, standing at the edge of cliffs overlooking waterfalls, or driving over big bridges. I don’t like these experiences at all.

I could expand this list. But I noticed when I thought about it that one thing I’m not afraid of is a terrorist attack. I don’t think much about terrorism at all. My family spends a few months in London, England, every couple of years and when we are there, I think a little more about terrorism. As I ride the escalator deep into the underground transportation system of a major world capital, I do think, now and then: “okay, it’s a possibility, something could happen.”

But in my day-to-day life in rural New York state, I don’t worry about national security.  I’m pretty confident this is a problem that is not likely to touch my life.

But some of my neighbors in rural western New York do worry about terrorism. They are really worried that immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are going to launch attacks–or, at least, try. They tell me they don’t understand why I’m not more concerned.

At some level, I understand what they are saying. We had a large-scale terrorist attack on the United States in 2001. There have been other killings since by terrorists. I did a little research on this and it looks like 94 people have been killed in the US since 2001 in terrorist violence. Those were 94 precious lives. Every death was the realization of some mother’s nightmare.

But because fears are so visceral and often irrational—take, for example, my fear of heights or that my husband will die suddenly—it is difficult to have a calm discussion about these things and how to respond appropriately.

Many people were excited and relieved by President Trump’s travel ban on people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen because they saw it as addressing their fears. Many other people were outraged and annoyed because they, like me, are not afraid. Or they’ve decided that the risk of terrorism is less important than living in a country that helps families flee from war, or helps smart graduate students study in great universities, or lets people experience American freedom to start businesses and make a better life for themselves.

So what are you afraid of, Tom? Are you afraid that allowing refuges from Libya, Somalia, and the Sudan to resettle in Buffalo is risking a terrorist attack in the 23rd district or elsewhere? Are you afraid that people from these countries are going to carry out another large-scale attack like the one in 2001? Or, are you afraid that if you don’t support a president who has a lot of popular support, you’ll lose your election two years from now?

I’ve kept my promise to call your office every weekday in February. On Wednesday, I had a conversation with Tom, a case worker in the Corning Office. On Thursday, I spoke with Natalie in the DC office and on Friday with Samara in DC. Thank them, for me, for their graciousness in listening. It must be annoying to have to listen to constituents who do not agree with what your boss is doing. They were very polite.

I see that you’re going to be visiting my neighborhood on February 18 for a town-hall meeting. I asked you to do that in a previous letter, and now you are. Thank you! I’m looking forward to meeting you then.

Until next week,


One thought on “What are you afraid of?

  1. Once again, Susan, I appreciate your thought-provoking remarks. Interestingly enough, I understand that in the past 10 days there was a potential terrorist threat in our county, and those arrested and charged were not immigrants, they were local Americans.


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