Over the past few years I have noticed a pretty significant change with myself: I’ve become a paranoid scaredy-cat. I used to be afraid of nothing. Yep friends, let me repeat that, I used to be afraid of nothing. (I think I’ll always hate unnecessary and unexpected noises and sudden movements, and I’m not sure that has nor will ever change.)
But now, I say I’m scared multiple times a day. I can’t be alone in a house for too long even during the day, and the things I am scared about are stupid, like making a phone call, reading an e-mail, or flushing the toilet when the water looks too high.
It’s ridiculous, and my mom has paused more than once to look me in the eye and say, Julia, this is not something to be scared about. Maybe she finds it amusing (and worrisome) how I fuss over such little things, but can struggle with the larger LIFE questions for years and stay calm and mostly free-spirited.
The first time she said it, I think I just shrugged. The next time, she commented on how I can go to Africa by myself, but won’t go to a family party long enough to say hi and bye. This week though (when I waited for her to get home to flush the toilet), she reminded me, you used to not be scared of anything, now you’re scared of everything.
I met her confused eyes and joked, Well Mom, these are scary times, what do you expect?
And it is a scary time. From my perspective right now, I see the world being torn apart, ravaged by us wanting more and more. I see the oil spill. I see drug addicts. I see the car bombings. I see the homeless. I see the unhappy and depressed. I see the wars. I see the poverty. I see the failing economy. I see the bad food, the polluted water and air. I see the hurting animals… the hurting us. I see our world. And yeah, I guess I’m scared.
But reading an e-mail? Making a phone call? Flushing the toilet?
So… I googled it… “I’m scared of everything.”
Oh, and roommates have told me I started talking in my sleep, so I included that too.
And up came thousands of results about anxiety. Anxiety? Me?
Anxiety and Me.
As I read the symptoms, I identified with more than I had expected, including some random ones: dizzyness, itchy scalp, poor depth perception, and picky eating (preferring bland, light colored foods). And who knows, maybe they aren’t related. Maybe I’m not displacing my anxiety at the world towards smaller things. But maybe I am. So here I am asking myself and others what I can do to stop being scared.
One of my friends says it’s a choice, and I should just choose to not be scared. I didn’t disagree. So the other day when I jumped in the lake, I told myself, you are not scared of fish biting your toes, you are not scared of spilled oil from the marina getting in your mouth, you are not scared of people floating around in the lake who died long ago, waiting to pull you under until I wasn’t scared anymore. And when I was in a room by myself and heard laughter, I repeated the mantra, you are not scared of ghosts, you are not scared of robbers, you are not scared of a creepster in the closet, until I wasn’t scared anymore.
Just kidding. Choosing to not be scared hasn’t worked out so well. Choosing to focus on other things (ahem: ignoring my fears) has worked a little better, but overall I’m still scared. Of course, I’ve only been at this a few days.
The perfect solution.
When I retreat from our culture and from the media, when I get away from the incessant noise and information, and when I live more in the natural world than in the virtual one, I’m not scared all the time. For example, I can only remember being scared once in Kenya, and even then, when men with rifles entered our car, I wasn’t too scared. So there’s my solution. Move away. To Africa perhaps. Retreat from this world into a safer one. Maybe find an island. I mean, it’s what I’ve been talking about for years, right?
But I don’t want to. Not like that.
Because I know that’s impossible (not the retreating or moving part, but the being safe part). I will never be safe by building walls to keep dangers, stimuli and pollutants out. As Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And if I move to Africa or to an island somewhere else, I will want to still be connected. I want to share my life with others, not be forced to protect myself from them. And even if I do move away someday, I want to be able to live here in America and NOT BE SCARED.
After writing the words I quoted above in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, King continued,
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea…
There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.
So, I think what I really want is to reclaim my mind.
I don’t want to think of things (the earth, animals, and our bodies) as commodities.
I want to have an “I thou” relationship with the world, not an “I it” relationship.
And I want to be able to do all that here.
I know I can do it elsewhere, away from this culture and its distractions, but I must figure out how to be at peace and in harmony with the world anywhere I am, because I’m getting really, really tired of being scared.
With that I will sign off, and I hold my cell phone high like a torch in front of me to light my way up the dark stairs and past the big open kitchen where things or people could be lurking and I will try not to run past the bathroom where I should stop to brush my teeth and I will jump in my bed and lay there and I will breathe quietly and listen for any scary noises coming from below or above or on either side of me.
When all I hear are crickets the train rumbling across the lake and my stomach digesting food I will look over at my sister and think she’s safe and I will close my eyes and put myself to bed.0