The End of the World (yes, it feels right to capitalize it) provokes two distinctly different feelings in me. On one hand, I tend toward hunkering down with a year’s worth of food and my Kindle (and yes, I’ve a plan to keep that powered after the world ends). On the other hand, I wonder whether this isn’t the best time to cast off my fears and head out to parts unknown.
Fear keeps me sitting here at the keyboard.
My theory is that the longer you live, the more you fear. As a child, before we’re taught what and when to fear, the world must be a magical place, full of possibility. Then along comes mom and dad and everyone else to introduce the words “no” and “don’t.” Don’t touch this, do this, eat this, lick this, pat this – the list of things children have to learn not to do is overwhelming. When my younger daughter was five, she put her entire hand on the stove top because it was red and she wanted to touch it. Her bad mother hadn’t remembered to tell her don’t touch the stove. In her early teens, she filled the dishwasher with liquid dish soap because we were out of dishwasher powder. Yep. Once again, I’d neglected to tell her that was a big no. My favorite, expensive vacuum cleaner died as she attempted to vacuum up the suds that covered the kitchen. Oops.
My children are not stupid or lacking in common sense. Their only crime was to think that I’d covered all of the important information in life’s owner’s manual and I hadn’t.
As they grew older, my incessant instructions led to my receiving the family nickname of “Master of the Obvious.” Even so, they continued to push boundaries, explore new activities, and generally leave me with a sick feeling in my stomach as I swallowed my fear and let them make their own mistakes.
For the record, sleeping in a public park in Europe is something you don’t share with your mother until after you’re safely back in the States.
The braver they got, the more scared I became. My comfort zones shrunk. My willingness to drive in big cities vanished. My ability to make decisions as simple as buying a new air purifier became mired in the obsessive reading of Consumer Reports and Amazon reviews. I questioned every decision.
I noticed the same thing with my older relatives and patients. They worry about icy sidewalks and driving at night and vague aches and pains. The world becomes a dangerous place, full of vandals and disease. No matter where they look, there is danger out there.
And so they retreat into the cocoon of their home and huddle fearfully under blankets. The television hisses with malevolent news in the background while they eat bland foods and wait for death to come. Fearful.
The end of the world, the end of the year, or the end of the work week are all arbitrary measures we employ as our lives slip away, but we can choose to constrict or we can choose to expand. Give in to fear or give in to the possibility that whatever is out there is wondrous rather than terrifying. And if it’s terrifying, well, like roller coasters and natural childbirth and getting married, there can be wonder in terror.
When faced by an endless onslaught of demons, Angel, vampire with a soul, explains his big plan as “I kinda wanna slay the dragon.”
Career coach and author Tama Kieves says “It doesn’t matter where you enter the stream. It doesn’t matter how you begin. Just jump in.”
Here’s to doing the things we fear. I’ll let you know if there be monsters out there.