I Am Afraid


The iconic picture above is on the eve of D-Day, June 6, 1944, of which this year marks the 72nd anniversary.  General Dwight Eisenhower is meeting with paratroopers from 101st Airborne Division, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Regiment, Company E.

The man whose face is just above Ike’s thumb is William E. Hayes. He’s my first cousin, twice removed. That picture hung in my grandparent’s house and I’ve been fascinated by it since I was a boy. The look on Bill’s face is something I’ve often pondered about. Is he enamored with meeting the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe? This was just hours before the invasion was to commence. What was he thinking about?
Gerry Gilmour, a reporter for the Fargo Forum interviewed Bill in 1994 marking the 50th anniversary of D-Day:

Bill explains, “I was mentally putting all of this equipment on – thinking about what was going to happen in two hours – and somebody said, ‘Well, are you ready?’

“I said, ‘Yeah, I guess so,’ and looked up and there’s Eisenhower.”

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower – Ike – supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force and future president of the United States – was mingling with the troops.

“He didn’t want to come right out and say, ‘Are you scared?’ but that’s what he was getting at,” recalled Hayes. “I said, ‘You’re damn right I’m scared.’ ”

Bill Hayes was afraid. Turns out, I’m get scared too.  I’m not afraid to admit it.

It’s ok to be afraid. 

That’s not something I’ve always believed. I believed that men lived by the “No Fear” moniker. You’ve seen those t-shirts, right?

The “No Fear” illusion is similar to Hans Christian Anderson’s short tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  In that story, tailors create invisible clothes for a vain ruler that only ‘smart’ people can see, which results in everyone around complimenting the emperor on his fine clothes, lest they be seen as stupid by everyone else. Only a little boy, who doesn’t understand what keeping up pretense is about, states the truth.

The truth is, we men are afraid. We are afraid all the time. About who we are. About our performance.  About our choices. Our past. Our future. Our family. Our faith. Fill in the blank!

When I am afraid, I typically respond by making myself bigger so that I don’t have to show fear.  So I perform.  Or lie.  Or show anger.  Anything other than showing fear, because there is supposed to be “No Fear.”

My “No Fear” responses to situations become habits I built up over a lifetime. Healthy people who don’t buy into keeping up pretense know the truth.

Fear doesn’t have to be the motivator.

Over time in doing a lot of work and personal reflection, and in support from other men in The Crucible Project and church, I’ve come to see that fear isn’t a motivator.  It’s just an emotion.

Acknowledging fear allows me to move into a difficult action or choice I have to make with a new courage. When some situation seems hauntingly familiar, I’m tempted to do the “No Fear” routine. Putting my fear out in front of both myself and others (wife included), changes the game. Something once powerful seems less so as it is shared and brought to the light.  It brings me support.  Support brings me courage.

I can be afraid and courageous with support.

At 5’9” and 160 pounds, Bill was considered too short to be a paratrooper, but they needed bodies and in less than two years, with 15 practice jumps (only 1 at night), he was in front of Eisenhower.

Bill was scared. His brothers-in-arms were scared. Ike knew they were scared. They did something courageous.  Together. So can we.

By Tim White

Tim completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2013. He has staffed weekends and leads a Faithful & True group of men, many are part of The Crucible Project community. As a former senior pastor and now principal consultant at The Wildwood Agency, Tim is fulfilling his mission by giving men guidance through vulnerable transparency.

Photo Credit: The Washington Post