Last night Ed turned on the History Channel’s series, “Mega Disasters.” Tuesday night’s episode focused on Mt. Rainier and what would happen if/when our cherished volcano erupted. Between the never-ending close-up, slow motion explosions of ash plums from Mt. St. Helens and the dramatic narrator who could easily been reading script for some upcoming Natural Disaster movie preview (“Death. Destruction.”), you’d think that anyone would be insane to choose live in the Pacific Northwest. I must admit, seeing the computerized effect of the 40 mph mud flood taking over the Puyallup Valley right where I used to drive down Highway 512 got me thinking twice about whether or not we should move back to the Evergreen State. I was reminded about my frequent drives north on 99 in Seattle where I ritualistically offered up the same mediation, asking that, if the big earthquake was going to hit today, that at least it wait until I was NOT driving on landfill while I was under the southbound lanes. I don’t miss that daily fear. At in Boston, whose drivers are in the top 5 of the nation for agressive and insane driving, I have some control to veer out of the way of the lunatic behind the wheel of some Chevy Suburban. As opposed to accepting my fate while swallowing asphalt.
At the commercial, I surfed over to PBS for Frontline’s “The Age of Aids.” Okay, I get it. There’s a shitload of stuff out there to be terrified about. I thought about what really scares the hell out of me. Ever since I dreamed about trying to outrun a tsunami when I was 10 (yet another potential PNW natural disaster), I have had an irrational fear of tidal waves. Lately, it’s been the bird flu. For Ed, it is terrorism. After 9/11, I swear he spent one third of his day imagining just how the terrorists would strike next (apparently they’ve got it all wrong; they should be targeting the Mall of America or Yankee Stadium and why they haven’t has Ed befuddled). These days I research all the articles on ‘disaster preparedness kits’ to be sure we have enough supplies to last us through a pandemic.
But why, I wonder, do our imaginations grab on to different fears? Really, we’re both afraid of the same thing: something terrible happening that we have no preparation for or control over. I am curious as to why my fears surge at earthquakes and pandemics and Ed’s develop over manmade horrors.
Our fears define us as much as our dreams—and like our dreams— are intimately connected what our society dreams for and fears. Despite whether or not the evidence for WMD in Iraq was valid, I’m fairly certain there was no small amount of fear factor in the agents who found that “evidence” as well as those analyzing the documents and the administration responding to a frightened nation. And, after seeing the preview to Al Gore’s new movie which basically said, ‘fear for your life; our planet is about to die,’ I realize just how much fear is the great life motivator.
Luckily, I get very suspicious about anyone’s attempts to heighten my fear. It’s a cheap emotional ploy. It’s why bad thriller movies have become cookie cutters (lots of middle-class teenagers in parents’ lovely homes; virgin has sex; virgin is hacked to death…. Blah, blah, blah..). Fear is as easy to conjure as it is powerful. When I realized that the reason I like M. Night Shyamalan’s movies was because they deal with what happens after someone realizes their worst fear, I understood that a big part of life is not about preparing for what might happen, but what we’re about when that worst thing does happen. You know, like moving across the country and then realizing you have no job and no income and aren't sure if you'll be able to make rent, let alone pay for a decent day care to watch your kid while looking for the job to support your family.
Unluckily, the problem with fears is how ingrained they are in our emotions. There's rarely logic involved (otherwise, more peolple would have a phobia about driving in cars than flying in airplanes). Also, it's incredibly difficult to articulate what the fear really is and then realizing how much that fear says about our life (I'm not afraid of the melting glaciers but I am afraid of Jack dying before he's had a chance to live. Or, maybe I'm scared that I haven't really lived life fully and don't want to die before I've understood exactly what that means for me.)
Of course, all of this analysis is a pointless if some 30 foot wall of water is coming at me at 25 mph. Or, I'm having to choose between melting in 500 degree heat or consciously choose to dive to my death. Or, I have some virus or disease that gives me a 6-9 month life sentence. Somehow, I think I need to translate all of my fear energy and imagination into dream energy and imagination. So, instead of imagining Jack being abducted by some pedophile in the grocery store while my back is turned for 3.2 nanoseconds, I suppose I should be imagining him riding his bike for the first time and loving it. Because, really, when the shit hits the fan, it won't matter a lick how much I imagined the worst.
I'll let you know how my switch from fear-to-dream thought transformation goes. After I watch the conclusion of Frontline's Aids show tonight.