Originally posted 3/19/15
Plugging all the holes is impossible, and that’s good news. I think.
I am a natural worrier. Should a young child of mine cough, my mind can have them in an oxygen tent in under 10 seconds. The pace of my imagination is staggering—first this happens, then this, then this. I would call it a gift, if self-torture could be a gift.
This is why I am acutely aware of this habit in others. I watch their minds whirl when they hear about Pat’s stroke. “A stroke? At 49?” So young! How did it happen? Did he have high blood pressure? Did he take Lipitor? Did he exercise? Was it genetic?” And I can actually HEAR them take off…”I work out, I just had a check-up, my life insurance is up to date…"
I’ve observed the same around the recent suicide of my friends’ son. “Was he depressed? Being bullied? Were there signs?” Followed by internal cataloguing, “She’s been on Zoloft for a year, sees the therapist every week, we changed her school…” The questions are both for and about the asker. We need information—for ourselves. So we can breathe. The holes are plugged. We are ok.
This process exists because we are acutely aware of our fragility. Every time we hear of someone else’s loss we search, fumbling to find the cause. Less for blame and more to shore up our own defenses: if we figure out what they did “wrong”, we can make sure that we do it “right”. What seems (and sometimes sounds) like a blame game is, in fact, a fear game. We are vulnerable, and we know it.
Sometimes things just happen. Drunk drivers exist, no matter which car seats we choose. Genetics exist. And things even more random and less sensical. We make the best choices we can, and yet there is tragedy. Not because of what we did or didn’t do. It just—is.
Our gas grill broke years ago and required a match to light it. I wouldn’t do it—what if I blew up the house? This went on throughout the summer of 2001. On September 12th, the grill didn’t seem scary at all. It was one little match. Terrified, feeling the earth disappear beneath my feet—beneath all of our feet—I became brave in that one tiny way. Perspective can be a funny thing.
Since experience is the best teacher and I now have heaps of it, I feel qualified to announce that I’ve broken the code: I cannot protect us from everything. A wise woman would stand down, stop trying to anticipate. But I am not yet wise.
These things I know (and yes, I am aware that they are incongruous): My fears limit me. My fear makes me strong. My searching and worrying are not helpful. Yet being human—and more precisely, being me--my mind will keep whirling and I will keep searching and plugging the holes with fingers and toes in cartoon fashion. A regular Sisyphus of Stress. But I do like the ideal of standing down—a worthy goal. Change is a process, after all.