Lose One Worry, Find Another
On my Watcher's Rounds the other day, I stopped by to read Varifrank's nominated post. He's always a pleasure to read, an excellent essayist with an easy, fluid style.
The choice this week was the J. Patrick Buchanan Library of Failed Ideas. Varifrank's compilation of all the predicted disasters that didn't happen -- from the takeover of America by the Japanese to the coming Ice Age/Global Warming -- was amusing in its details of all the things that kept people awake at night and never happened.
When he grew up in the '70's the end of things are we knew them was a general part of the culture's early warning system. When I grew up, we hid under the desks to practice for the imminent nuclear explosion. All amusing now, but it wasn't then.
The post got me to thinking...when did the awfulizing start? Has it always been in the nature of things that groups, out of a need for security, focus on the next possible bad thing coming down the pike? Does the media simply amplify what has always gone on, even back to the days of sitting 'round the night fire listening for strange sounds in the dark?
So I commented to Varifrank (this is somewhat amended, since I realized I was going on way too long and leaving the Land of Comments for the Land of Posts so I'd better cut the verbiage adn head back here to finish my thoughts):
Maybe it's since the rise of the media or perhaps it pre-exists even that. The awfulizing that goes on has made me quit listening, reading, or otherwise participating in what I call the "Henny-Penny-the-Sky-Is-Falling" song and dance.
Though I am one of those afraid of the avian flu. Not afraid in the sense that I think about it much, but afraid in that I've made plans if it becomes a problem. Neither vaccine seems to work very well. But I live in the country and unless this stuff just mutates its little head off, it's not a problem because I don't do crowds. OTOH, I'll store some food and we have a well so I'm set. But I really think it's another SARS...
The only reason this particular one is my weak point is that my grandmother and some family died in the 1918 flu, which utterly smashed my family down through four generations...it's still reverberating. And some scientists are saying there are similarities here. We'll see.
I got curious about that one, though -- the effects of the Spanish flu back when it happened. When I looked for information on the sequelae, the after effects on our culture, I was surprised at how little information there was. It was as though until recently (the last ten years or so) it got buried as part of our history, even though 625,000 people died in the US in just six weeks. Some say 12 million died world-wide, some say 50, and others claim we'll never know. Whatever -- the fact that we just kind of picked up and went on without examining what that cost, well, it struck me as bizarre. Of course it happened right at the end of WWI, so maybe the "Roaring" '20's were some kind of rebound for all that loss.
I loved all the things Varifrank cited though. I never go near that stuff. I figure I have enough to worry about in my garden...gardeners awfulize there: what the tomato worms are doing, and look at those damn Japanese beetles, and what is that mold on the lilacs, and look at the black spot on the roses, would you look at that?
That's how we gardeners channel the Big Fear. If you're not a gardener, where do you focus it? IMHO, it's our way of fending off The Real Big One -- i.e., the fact that we're mortal and don't have any control over that fact.
Someone told me once that we all have a little black bag and we use it to carry around our worries. There are usually about five or six at any given time. If one worry resolves or becomes irrelevant, then we just add another so that we always have about the same number.
So what's in your bag, hmmm? Tell me one of yours, I'll tell you one of mine. Or we can share ones we used to have, the things we dropped before adding something else. "Coming of age" stories are full of those. That's why we like them: we can identify with the worries we grew out of and survived.
And it's okay to smile at our younger selves as long as we don't make fun of those coming along, carrying the same little group of fears we had...