I am an anxious person. I have the sleepless nights and prescription drugs to prove it. I worry about everything. I worry about how I will repair things in my house -the furnace, the roof, the electrical panel- even though none of those things have broken yet. I worry about the safety of roller coasters and cars and flying. I worry about what will happen to all of us if things in this world don't change soon. I worry about what will happen to us if they do.
The truth is, it's exhausting to spend my life so concerned about things I have no control over. I wish I weren't such a skittish person, but I can't seem to turn it off. One of my favorite books is Plan B by Anne LaMott. It was written during the 2nd, more disastrous Bush era, and is a book of musings on faith, fear and the Iraq War. The predominant theme is that hope and faith can overcome fear. She talks about how she and her friends were filled with dread and depression when Bush declared war on Iraq, and how she found hope in faith. On the whole it's inspiring, uplifting, yada-yada-yada. But somehow it still bothers me that the fear exists at all, that this wise, mature 50 year old woman and her equally wise, mature friends are just as paranoid, just as terrified as I am. They also spend a lot of time fretting over things they can't control.
Is this what it means to be a product of our country, of our time? It's something I think about a lot now that I live on my own. I thought about it every time I walked the dark block from the BART station to my apartment in Berkeley, every time I walk my dog through my silent neighborhood because she just had to go out at 2am, every time I hear some strange sound in the middle of the night and convince myself that it's a cat burglar, or worse yet, an actual cat in my house. I feel like our society has trained us to fear even the most remote possibility of danger.
I worry so much about my safety, about intruders and muggers and all the other things that have taken over the nightly news. I know my mother worries about me too and I worry about her. This is one of the ways we express our love for each other, show that we care. Even though we can't protect each other, it's nice to know someone out there wants to keep you safe.
I was reading an environmental book a while back and the authors first question was "Why isn't everyone else as afraid as we are?" I thought about this for awhile and I suppose my question in return is "Why do we have to fear things for change to occur?" Why is that our main emotional currency? Why is that our mode of controlling and relating to the world around us?
The world spends so much time worried. We fear the environment, progress (I'm looking at you John Boehner), change, growth, industry, death, each other. Yet we fear all the alternatives just as much if not more.
I hiked up a mountain in the Rocky Mountains a few years ago. It was a ten mile round trip hike, at a very high elevation with much thinner air. I think about how nervous I felt the night before my friends and I left for the trip. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make it, that I'd get sick from lack of oxygen or dehydration, that I'd slow everyone down or fall and hurt myself. Then I think about how amazing it was to reach the top of that mountain and look around, how awesome it was to know that I had climbed a mountain.
Sometimes it seems that this is how my life and the others I observe are all the time. Like we're climbing mountains of fear, anger, ignorance and pain just to get over ourselves and be able to see what's on the other side. Then I think about all the joy and love and kindness and all the little heroic acts that I see everyday, and it seems like a miracle that any of these things ever happen at all. It's amazing that we manage to connect, to care, to do what we can to heal this world and care for those around us. Our capacity for love is breathtaking.
The chorus of one of my favorite old church hymns goes "All the love of God is here/A love that casteth out all fear." I think love is the most powerful force in this world, and I don't think it matters who or what you believe in. The evidence is everywhere. On sleepless nights, as I watch the minutes tick away and try to stop my mind from racing, that's what I try to focus on. I try to remember that no matter how strong my fear is, love will always be stronger.