Anna-Leena Harkonen


Dina Belenko/Alamy


Revenge of the Aunts

Some say fear is the root of all evil, and I agree. Fear often makes us do things that have harmful consequences—and stops us from doing things that would lead to something good.

I often have an ominous feeling: something bad will happen. However, sentiments and premonitions reveal nothing about the future. They reveal only that we’re afraid.

You wait forever for the love of your life to appear, and when they do, you immediately begin to sense that something bad will happen. This is why we should not always trust our intuition and instincts.

AND WHAT ARE we afraid of?

Death, of course, but that’s another story. We are also afraid of being left alone and abandoned, which is why we tend to diminish ourselves: we must not upset anyone, because they could turn their back on us.

At school, I was sometimes so afraid of bullying that my stomach hurt. I have also been bullied in the workplace. In hindsight, I should have done something about the situation or quit.

However, it’s difficult for an actress to quit a few weeks before the premiere. You get a reputation for being unreliable—but perhaps it would be better to have such a reputation than to lose your mind.

SOMETIMES FEAR takes the form of a person. Aunt Mary, for example; she is the embodiment of everything that is conventional, narrow-minded, and intolerant in this world.

Scenario: Aunt Mary has given you a vase, which you have recycled because it was so ugly. And now Aunt Mary is coming for a visit!

The vase was her wedding present to you. Who cares that you have already recycled the husband? You should have kept the vase!

BUT WHAT IS the worst thing Aunt Mary could do?

She is so frail that she couldn’t hurt a fly even if she wanted to. She won’t break your neck—she will shake her head and leave or burst into tears, in which case you can hand her a tissue and tell her everything will be fine.

Sometimes Aunt Mary is an imaginary being. We all have our invisible Aunt Mary who prevents us from living the life we desire. We project this invisible aunt onto the people around us, who we feel are watching and criticizing us.

SOME CHILDHOOD fears are persistent. When I sleep alone, I keep the light on in the kitchen and leave the bedroom door ajar.

I was relieved to hear a famous astronomer confess on a talk show that he is irrationally afraid of the dark. There are completely sensible, reasonable, and rational people who cannot overcome their fear—people who definitely know there is nothing or no one hiding in the dark.

A couple of years ago, I was still afraid to hang my hand over the side of the bed, because someone could grab it. Now I have gradually begun to believe that there is no one under my bed, living or dead.

© Anna-Leena Harkonen 2022

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