Stella Leventoyannis Harvey


When placed in circumstances I don’t like (tight spaces, heights, flying, the dark, any or all of the above), I glue my bravest smile in place (well, sometimes I tear up first), even as it feels pallid.  My breathing is shallow, my hands sweat, and my shoulders tremble. My back hunches, my arms are crossed. What I really want to do is curl up into the fetal position, barricade myself away and have someone else take care of me. But I’m a self-respecting adult (most of the time), albeit a scaredy-cat. So I’m usually able to talk myself out of hysterical reactions.

It’s not easy to continue to function and move forward as if you know no fear. But, letting it in allows it to grow new and thorny tentacles. I’m not prepared to give my fears that much latitude or breathe life into something that will use that breath to extinguish who I am, along with my ability to reason.

Some years ago, a knife wielding drunk attacked me as I was on the final stretch of my early morning run. It happened on a public street in daylight, although it was early, about 5:30. I fought back. He punched me in the stomach several times and threw me to the ground. His knife sliced my hands as I held onto it to keep it away from my throat. When he realized I wasn’t going to give up, he let me go and ran off. For a brief moment, I did think about chasing him down and kicking his sorry butt into the closest police station (I do have a Rambo tendency that rears it’s ugly head from time to time), but then I noticed all the blood. My blood.

I spent a few days in the hospital, took a number of stitches in my right hand, had surgery to repair my left hand, and went to physiotherapy for some six months in order to regain full use of my hands.

Yes, for a long time I was scared to be on my own. My parents stayed with me. Later, friends would pick me up and drop me back off when I went out, making sure I was safely inside, my door locked. I bought a Nordic Track and a bike trainer so I could get my cardio workout done inside where I thought I was safe. It took a year before I went running outside again. I remember the day.

It was the first anniversary of the attack. I’m not sure why I use a celebratory word to denote such an awful event, but there you have it. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and bright and the thought of riding my bike while standing still, didn’t appeal to me. Staring at my bike on the trainer and then at the Nordic Track, I was restless. I’m not sure I could articulate it at the time, but I did feel as though I’d given up on something I shouldn’t have let go of quite so easily.

Outside, there was a hint of a breeze. I looked around anxiously anticipating the worst, got nervous when I saw what appeared to be a blind spot, thought I heard footsteps behind me over my panting breath, and felt ice-cold despite my sweat and the August heat. It wasn’t easy to take those first steps that day and I can’t say I’m not tense even now, so many years later, when I’m on my own. I am. Sometimes, it feels as though I fight fear almost every day.

So in some ways I understand why some governments have fortified themselves behind wiretapping the personal phone calls and emails of their citizenry, doing so without cause or search warrants (or even bothering to take the time to consult anyone, for that matter).

I mean lots of awful things have happened in our world: September 11th, the Madrid, London and Boston bombings, to name a few. And I have no doubt there are other individuals and groups who continue to plot to do harm. Yes, there is a great deal to fear. That’s a given.

But why give into it? Why build walls, man fortresses, implement policies and practices that take precedence over basic civil rights. There is no threat big enough, in my opinion to give up the rights and freedoms of a democratic citizenry. I’m sorry, but there just isn’t. And believe me, as someone who has been stuck inside, behind bolted doors, I know of what I write.

We change who we are when we curl up and hide, allow others to do what they think is right for us. It’s easier. I agree with you. But what does it do to us?

We become unrecognizable, even as we try to convince ourselves it’s for our own good, for our security. The truth is, when fear has its hooks into us, there is no peace of mind, no true security − just the slipping away of the kind of life others fought so hard to establish.  

After I was attacked, an article ran in the local newspaper. In its tone and narrative, it seemed to blame me for the attack. Why was I out at 5:30 in the morning? The journalist (and I use that term loosely) questioned my actions. His argument: I courted trouble by being out so early. Next time I should take heed; there are bad guys out there. For a long time I believed him. I locked myself in for my own protection.

It took a year, and as I said it’s still an almost daily struggle to fight my fear. But I do it because I don’t like the person I am when fear is in control.

When the wiretapping story was uncovered this week, I felt as though I’d finally woken up to a reality I had ignored: the slow, almost imperceptible erosion of our civil rights in the name of security. And if you don’t believe this has happened, ask yourself: what kind of government would implement snooping practices without bothering to consult us. What would make them think they could be so cavalier? Fear has set that course. And we as scaredy-cats have accepted it as our master. It’s time we wrestle control back.

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