The Nautilus of Fear

The Nautilus of Fear

Paris attacks: Nautilus of Fear
Photo: © pretoperola/123RF

Fear has a posture. If you sustain a violent blow to the heart­­­­­ – if, for example, your hometown is terrorized by multiple indiscriminate acts of unspeakable carnage – you’ll find you’re always bracing for the next blow.

Although you’re probably not literally ducking with hands over head, covering for the next explosion, unconsciously, you’ve drawn up your shoulders and, chin tucked, back hunched, heart compressed, you’re curling in on yourself.  Angst and self-protection have turned you into a nautilus.

I’ve known the nautilus. While I wouldn’t compare this with our Parisian terror, I lived in a self-made nautilus for months after a violent accident took my eldest child’s life. Grief, trauma and fear weighed across my shoulders.  Dread wedged my hope into a dark, airtight corner of my torso where despair dried my heart to the point of brittleness.

A brittle heart in a cramped nautilus? Was this any way to live?

The antidote for fear began when I first unfolded my arms and stretched them toward others in need. I was sobered finding there was pain everywhere, and always someone in greater need than I. Arms extended, I began to breathe more deeply, in sync with others. This softened my heart, revived it. Hope, that thing with feathers, caught an exhilarating updraft.

And the nautilus?

I fear I outgrew it.

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Melissa Dalton-Bradford is an award-winning author, (Global Mom: A Memoir, named AML’s Best Memoir of 2013, and On Loss & Living Onward), poet, essayist, blogger, polyglot, soprano, popular public speaker, and mother of four. Former long-time residents of Paris, Melissa and her husband have built their family in Vienna, Hong Kong, the greater New York City area, Oslo, Munich, Singapore, Geneva, and Frankfurt. Her work explores the globally mobile life, and delves into the role of community in providing stabilizing strength when “globility” and major loss collide, as occurred with the death of her eldest, Parker, which inspired her involvement as a founding member of Their Story is Our Story: Giving Voice to Refugees, a non profit organization bringing artists and writers together to transmit stories, create connections, and inspire compassion.


  1. Many thanks Melissa for this wholehearted testimony. This is a beautiful example of resilience and what Marie-Louise Labonté calls “Le Point de Rupture”.

  2. Grateful to know you, even if it’s just on Facebook through mutual friends. Your giving, sharing heart barely fits in a room these days; nevermind the shell.


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