Laughing at Fear with Toucan Sam

Do you have irrational fears? I sure do. Octopuses coming up through the bathtub drain (megalohydrothalassophobia); razor blades cutting my toes (xyrophobia); too many little things or holes in one place (trypophobia); and cooking for other people (mageirocophobia).

I’ll admit to any number of fears that I can’t even remember developing. However, this week I experienced the genesis of a brand-new irrational fear.

Plague Mask
A photo of the plague doctor mask, but not the one from Beauty and the Beast.

For about three seconds in the new Beauty and the Beast movie, I caught a glimpse of a plague doctor’s mask—the kind worn back when people were dropping left and right from the Black Death. The mask covers the nose and mouth and extends into a point like a hooked bird beak. Instantly I was seized with a horror that stuck with me through the rest of the movie, on our walk to the car, and when closed my eyes to sleep that night.

In the morning it haunted me still. Even in the bright sunlight, I couldn’t chase the creepy image from my mind. When I walked Dudley out later that evening, in the corner of my eye, I spotted a figure wearing the unnaturally hideous beak-like mask.

By that afternoon, even surrounded by people at work, I felt threatened by the menacing image.

Certainly the people of 14th century Europe feared these masks as much as I do now. Apparently plague doctors filled the beaks with aromatic herbs and spices such as mint, cloves, and myrrh, to “protect” themselves from the putrid air caused by rotting corpses and plague related symptoms.(1)

Plague_doctor_costume-1

I tried to reason my way through the fear by figuring out why I was so afraid. I briefly considered that in a previous life I lived during the time of the Black Death. But tantalizing as that fantastic theory was, realistically, of course, it didn’t explain my instant and abiding terror of my brief glimpse of the mask in the film. Maybe I was exposed to the sight as a young child and suppressed my horror until now. Maybe the mask, combined with the idea of plague, death, and unsuccessful medical practices, was just too much to absorb. Who can explain the complex dealings in the dark recesses of our brains?

I finally confessed the unreasonable depths of my fear to Laura that night.

That night I slept like a narcoleptic sloth.

“Well, Buddy, you just need to find a way to make it funny,” she suggested, channeling her inner Professor Lupin from the Harry Potter series.

Then, like working on Riddikulus-charm homework, we cobbled together a hilarious scenario of Toucan Sam in a gas mask visiting Darkwing Duck who has eaten too much broccoli and has a bad case of farts. We rolled laughing, and that night I slept like a narcoleptic sloth.

toucan sam“God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). This situation reminded me of the necessity to rob fear of its power to rob us of our peace.

Sometimes that might mean praying, might mean staying busy, might mean exposing yourself to that fear, might mean seeing a therapist—but sometimes it just means laughing.

Like Professor Lupin said, “It helps. It really helps.”

I’d LOVE to hear about your irrational fear and how you deal with it in the comments below.

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  1. Before the understanding of germs and such, people assumed that plague could be caught from foul odors. This was known as the miasma theory. They also thought that obesity could come from smelling food. I am ever so glad they were wrong.
  2. Apparently not every one finds these masks repulsive. If the internet is any indication, it seems the steampunk and cosplay movement have recognized the horrific possibilities in the artistry of the mask. Dozens of depictions are available for purchase. And in 2005, a figure in a plague-doctor mask sent a menacing video to government officials. Creepy stuff!
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