Rip Torn explaining the fog of fear

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a movie buff. At six years old, I would walk with my brother Richard to the Silver Movie Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland and thus began my love for movies. I shared that love with my own kids; one of our favorite outings was a trip to the movies. I’m pretty open to almost any kind of movie, but it is the movie’s message that really makes me a fan of a particular movie. I believe most writers and directors are trying to tell us something, and one of the best examples of a movie with a powerful message is a movie called “Defending Your Life.”

The movie provides a wonderful look at Albert Brooks’ vision of death. I know this is a rather morose topic, but Albert Brooks is a comedian, and he takes a kind and gentle look at a topic that most of us would rather not talk about. Brooks’ version of death is quite simple: Upon our passing, each of us spends a few days analyzing our lives in a place called Judgment City. In a courtroom, with a prosecutor and a defender, a number of scenes from each person’s life are looked at and discussed. There are two judges who study those scenes and listen to the defense and prosecution for why the person behaved the way he or she did in those particular scenes. Then those judges come to a verdict, and that verdict determines if the person should move forward through the universe, or go back to live another life to try and get it right.

What I found most fascinating was the ultimate criterion that was used to make this determination. Surprisingly, it had little to do with our day-to-day activities, how much money we made, or our various accomplishments. The success or failure of our lives came down to one, simple question:

Did we overcome our fears, or did we let fear hold us back?

Take a moment to think about that statement. How often in life have you shied away from a particular decision or activity based solely on fear? Perhaps it was an interview, a conversation, a relationship, a new idea, or a presentation. Often that fear can mask itself in creative excuses, twisted logic, or well-timed procrastination.

On the flipside, when we can move through our fears and leave our area of comfort to try something daunting, we are immediately rewarded with a sense of deep satisfaction. The funny thing is that this sense of deep satisfaction often has little to do with the results of our endeavors. Our psyche is smarter than that. We carry that sense of pride because, by golly, we tried. The more often we battle through that fear, the quieter the voice of resistance becomes. Unfortunately, the more often we let fear hold us back, the more confident and assertive the voice of resistance becomes.

There are some many wonderful moments in the movie, but one line in particular caught my attention. During a conversation with his defender (played by Rip Torn,) Albert Brooks questions how fear can be such a determining factor in our lives. Rip Torn looks at him and says, “Fear is like a giant fog. It sits on your brain and blocks everything – real feelings, true happiness, real joy. They can’t get through that fog. But you lift it, and buddy, you’re in for the ride of your life.”

I’m guessing there’s a voice in your head saying, “Maybe today is the day I push through the fog and finally try to do ______.” Why not remove the word “maybe” and just push through that fog of fear? Why not just take the plunge and go for it?

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