Phobia n. 1. A compulsive and persistent fear of any specified type of object, stimulus, or situation. 2. Any strong aversion or dislike.
Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary
Like lots of other Nebraskansmaybe as many as 150,000I have a phobia. In fact, I have several phobias.
I'm compulsively and persistently fearful of and strongly averse to high places (acrophobia), infinity (apeirophobia), missiles (ballistophobia), new things (neophobia), crowds (demophobia), noise (phonophobia), and Wall Street (crashophobia).
But my priority phobia, the one that gives me the ying-yangs just talking about it, is claustrophobia, a compulsive fear of and strong aversion to being closed up in little bitty tight spaces.
I can't ride in the back seat of a two-door car. At movies, I have to sit in an aisle seat. I donít go places on airplanes any more, not out of fear the plane will drop out of the sky, but out of fear that I'll be forced to sit between two NFL linebackers. And I can't stand to wear neckties.
I suppose it all started in utero. My mother was not a large woman.
It is, of course, a form of madness. Sweet reason tells me that I won't suffocate if I don't get an aisle seat, that the back seat of a two-door car won't collapse in upon itself and squash me, that NFL linebackers don't really expand at high altitudes, and that a necktie won't, of its own volition, make a snatch at my adam's apple.
But sweet reason has nothing to do with phobias. Phobias rise out of our gut, the seat of indigestion and bile, not out of our heads, the seat of logic and intellectual clarity.
Some nights I dream claustrophobic dreams. Not nightmares about being caught in little bitty tight spaces, but wonderful fantasies about how I am serving mankind by ridding the world of little bitty tight spaces others might get caught in.
In a recurring fantasy, I am a world-famous scholar of the Hebrew language and I have just discovered the original text of Leviticus 18: 22 in a cave even older than the one where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
It is a startling discovery because it shows that the Leviticus 18:22 text we all grew up with "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination"is a stupendously corrupt translation.
The real translation, I tell a large audience of Bible scholars, goes like this:
"Thou shalt not lie down in little bitty tight spaces as if they were large open airy spaces; it is abomination."
Iím rewardedin my fantasyfor this brilliant scholarship with a ticker-tape parade through the Vatican.
The Truth, Mainly
I go on to find that little bitty tight spaces are denounced in all kinds of Biblical passagesmost of them deeply metaphoric.
I make a career of my claustrophobia.
I draw such large crowds of other claustrophobes that claustrophobia no longer seems an odd little psychological quirk, but the moral and spiritual norm.
Thus, in my fantasy, I reach another conclusion:
Non-claustrophobes need my help.
If little bitty tight spaces donít bother them, it simply means they donít see the clear and present danger. It means they need to be converted to Claustroanity, and that we Claustrophobes (weíre capitalized now) need to set up organizations devoted to helping poor lost sheep to see the Light.
The Light, in this case, being the conviction that Satan invented little bitty tight spaces and we should, at all costs, stay the hell out of them because they are abominations.
And if non-Claustrophobes laugh at us and say that we see the world through the prism of our own worst fears about ourselves, then we have to take legal action.
We begin by passing laws against little bitty tight spaces. And when sinners who like such spaces, who find such spaces warm and snug and comforting, go off to law school and learn that our laws are unconstitutional, they leave us with no choice.
We have to amend our state constitution.
I circulate a petition to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment decreeing that anyone who finds little bitty tight spaces to be warm and snug and comforting shall be deprived of certain rights we Claustrophobes enjoy.
And thatís when my fantasy ends. Thatís when Iím awakened by a remnant of sweet reason poking its head up through the bile of my fear and aversion.
"Nah," sweet reason says. "Itíll never work. Nebraskans have more sense than to pollute the state constitution with our gut phobias."
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.