An imaginable future

When we first moved to Israel, I felt uncomfortable sitting on buses and in cafes.

I would casually look around, trying to avoid notice, to see if there were any suspicious people or packages about; not sure, exactly, what my reaction would be if I spotted one.

Over time I have found myself less and less suspicious. More at ease in public places, as it so happens, but still not at ease.

“At ease” is not a behavior I was born with — or maybe I was — and was just spooked one too many times by a mischievous friend or traumatized by too many VC Andrews novels.

The world, for me, has almost always been a scary place.

And I have almost always been easily startled.

While here in Israel, I cautiously scan the room for bombs; in the States, I cautiously scanned darkened evening streets for rapists and quiet alleys for thugs. I walked quickly through empty hallways and avoided elevators with lone men. I double and triple locked my doors, and was known to sometimes sleep with the lights on. Especially the night after The Blair Witch Project.

I remember being in a bar watching a band perform in New York City once, in the months just before 9/11 but fresh enough after Columbine to still be jumpy, and leaping off my seat at the sound of a small explosion in the back of the room. Someone’s hair had caught fire accidentally on the tea light candle intended for atmosphere, and instead of atmosphere we were treated to dramatic special effects.

After I caught my breath, I laughed out loud at my reaction, but internally asked myself what I had been so concerned about. What immediate danger did I think the noise indicated?

A gun shot?

An explosion?

A brawl?

It’s the first time I remember my unease extending from mild anxiety to a heightened concern for my immediate well-being and the well-being of others.

From then and there, unfortunately, my unease has only become gradually uneasier.

And not because my anxiety has worsened, and not because I moved to Israel.

In fact, my anxiety has significantly improved in the last decade since I started acknowledging it and paying attention to it and using focused breathing, meditation and mindfulness.

Moving to the slow-paced countryside of Israel, in some ways, has helped, too.

But no matter how significantly my anxiety has improved, the world hasn’t. Since 9/11, the way I see it, we have been witness to more violent crimes like those in Aurora and Newtown and Boston and have experienced the communal aftermath of incomprehensible tragedies like Katrina and Sandy and are becoming more and more awakened to the devastation of our planet and the resources we have taken advantage of all our lives.

And suddenly I am no longer a minor statistic in a clinical journal.

It’s not just me and my world viewed through an anxiety-colored lens.

The world itself has become anxiety-colored. The world itself is on edge.

I watched this video of grown men jumping out of their seats; seemingly reaching to hug each other at the sound of thunder booming loudly over Yankee Stadium during a rain delay.

At first, I giggled. It was cute. Funny.

And then I paused, and realized, it wasn’t funny at all.

Grown men — baseball players, even, symbols of fearlessness and recklessness — jumping out of their seats at the sound of a …

Boom!

We are living in a world in which we are now, clearly, all easily startled.

scaredy cats

I know I’m not the first to make the claim that the world is growing bleaker and blacker.

There are voices much louder than mine that have come before.

And even though my voice is not the first.

There is always a glimmer of hope it can become one of the last.

The year I was born poet and activist Shel Silverstein wrote:

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”

(Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein)

Those children are now grown.

Those children are now us.

And it’s indeed possible we have come to where the sidewalk ends.

And we need to choose in which direction we will continue.

We may continue to jump at loud noises, and then numb ourselves to an unacknowledged shared pain.

Self-medicating with food, technology, entertainment, drink, drugs, sex, consumerism, waste, whatever — silently signing the same consent form to ignore, to waive liability.

Or we may create together a world in which we can imagine its future.

A future not out of a dystopian film, but one lined with the vibrant green grass of my childhood memories and narrated by Shel Silverstein.

I want a future lined with colorful sunsets for my children to fall in love under.

And I want to hear thunder… and scream,

then giggle.

Knowing my fears are only imagined.

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52 thoughts on “An imaginable future

  1. The world is more challenged in many ways, but also more aware of itself as a community, albeit a squabbling one, so it’s not all bleak. And I’ve found an unexpected slice of cheese in the fridge so I’m almost starting to celebrate now

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  2. First of all, I nearly had a panic attack at the mere mention of VC Andrews. And then my heart soared with Shel Silverstein. I am choosing to keep my attention and direct the attention of my children and my students toward Shel Silverstein. Not blindly or exclusively, but as a practice toward gentleness , compassion, and what is good in our world.

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  3. Ah – just what I needed! I am all full up on anxiety today and I’m not even IN Israel yet. I’m wondering how it will be to be there with my kids. Did I mention my inlaws refused to attend my dd’s bat mitzvah there because it is “too dangerous”? I don’t think that the world is safe but I don’t want to live in fear either.

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    • Israel is definitely not too dangerous to travel to, as you know Ciaran! But I can see why from watching the news people think so. I think that almost every single person who visits here is surprised by how very normal it is compared to what the news sites typically show or what you hear on NPR, Fox News or news channel of your choice. how very nice and normal the people are. how much we crave normality. how are days and nights are like most people — wake up, pack lunches for the kids, race off to work, race back from work, make dinner, wash dishes, and pass out in front of the TV. 😉

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  4. I don’t think the world is any scarier of a place than it used to be. If you look at historical death rates from non-natural causes it’s a safer place than it’s ever been. The scary events that the media likes to ramp up our anxiety with are incredibly low-probability events. It’s just that that’s what sells, it’s what gets politicians elected, it’s what provokes a reaction. The world is a smaller place than it was, so an event halfway around the world will now show up in your local news.

    My news comes in from a select set of RSS feeds (to which yours is a new addition!) and I have divorced the mainstream media. I’m much happier for it.

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    • I definitely think there is a lot of truth in what you say — the mainstream media often ignites and spreads fear. Over the last few years, I have purposefully avoided mainstream media web sites for this reason and now filter all my news through my twitter feed. I find that this way I avoid scary sensational stories and get more of the news that adds value to my life. That said, I do think that fear breeds fear and craziness breeds craziness. And because the mainstream media focuses so much on the evil in the world, I think it attracts more evil.

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  5. Please be safe and take care of yourself! I think we need to be safe in US as in Israel as well. Being in Israel is wonderful but you must be safe at all times wherever you live. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Totally true. People don’t realize from watching Israel on the news that it’s actually not a constant war zone — we live mostly normal lives here. And while it’s true, we’re in more active danger of war from regional enemies, I think that in this day and age, sadly, there are more concerns above and beyond regional war. I’m trying to do what my friends who are healers suggest — focus on the light. Focus on the good in people. Be and spread compassion.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your story. I feel the same way. There’s just so much negative news in the world that I feel paranoid being outside sometimes.

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  7. First and foremost, congrats on being FP’d! 😀 A very captivating read! It is true that we are often slaves to our environment, an environment that is filled with bombs waiting to explode, and I mean this mostly figuratively but it sadly so happens to be literal at times. Thanks again!

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  8. Beautiful post. I refuse to be afraid of this world. I want my grandkids to be safe for sure but I want them also to have a feeling of being able to hear fireworks and know it is just that. Beautiful fireworks.

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  9. Lovely writing. Evil is what happens when good men and women do nothing…or something like that. I do know that those of us whose heads are not in the sand are more likely to make a difference in this world.

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  10. Some fears are imagined and some fears are not, and sometimes, even a paranoid is a victim of crime.

    It’s 1933 Germany and nothing–NOTHING–was going to stop the tide of events, which would transpire over the next 12 years.

    We can put on a happy face and say, IF people do this, or IF people do that, or IF people do the other, then we can change things for the better. However, there are some societal changes and mass movements in history that must run their course, and people are not strong enough, nor wise enough, nor righteous enough to change the course of history during those times. Days of hardship and turmoil weaken people; and as a whole, they will do nothing.

    During those times, the individual can only affect his or her small part of the world, to do the best they can for themselves and their loved ones–to keep striving, to keep fighting, both physically and mentally, though the future appears bleak and hopeless. It’s all one can do. Sometimes we will win; other times we will lose. Even knowing these things will not mitigate immediate fears in the short-term, but they can make it easier to live with the depressing long-term ones.

    For me, knowing there are things, which I cannot affect, I look forward to a time when all things shall be made new again. In that day, I hope to be able to say, I did the very best I could.

    ~Manfred
    http://knightsfeather.wordpress.com/

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  11. I think you make some interesting points and I do wonder if you’re right — that some societal changes and mass movements must run their course. If I believe this, then I believe it in the same way that sometimes rotten things happen to good people and they only are able to see how those rotten things created enormous opportunity AFTER they experienced them. Maybe it’s the same with societal changes that seem uncomfortable or even civilization threatening …maybe we’ll once look back and say those changes brought us to the amazing place we are today. And, you’re right, there is a great ease that comes with accepting that there are certain things we can’t personally affect.

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  12. Beautiful post! Made me tear up a bit, and at work no less 😛
    I also suffer from anxiety, and while I understand that much of it is self-induced, I agree that – given the current state of affairs – there is certainly cause for concern.
    Oh, I also especially appreciated your mention of VC Andrews 🙂 She was my favorite author as a child… what can I say, I was a weird kid.

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    • Thanks for your comments and empathy! I used to sneak into my mom’s room when I was in elementary school/junior high and read all the VC Andrews books — twice!

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  13. The world, for most of us likely to be writing here, is considerably less dangerous than it has ever been in the past. If some tragic event is front page news in the civilised west, you can be sure that it is an almost vanishingly unlikely occurrence.

    What the news media relies on, to keep us buying papers and watching TV, is the instinctive, but flawed, assumption that something that is very frightening is therefore also very likely. A moment’s rational consideration of the statistics will reveal an individual’s chances of being involved are minute.

    Don’t worry about the things the news media does tell you about…worry about the things they _don’t_.

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    • That may be so — that the world is less dangerous. I’m not sure. But I definitely agree that the media does not tell us the things we truly need to worry about, and focuses instead on fear-based stories that we then seek out to confirm our fears. However, I do think that it’s cyclical and interdependent. Our inability or refusal to stop our addiction to news, information ,technology feeds into this cycle. If we, the consumers, refused to consume fear (and react to it), there would no longer be a demand or a supply.

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  14. Thanks, Jen! I envy you your amazing place of residence! I often dream about a trip to Israel….someday. My young son (well, and I am too, to be honest!) is enamored with the idea of floating in the Dead Sea. We often pray for the peace of Jerusalem!

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    • Thank you for your prayers. Our region is a lot safer than it appears in the news — and definitely a wonderful place to visit. I encourage you to travel here and get to know us better. Save for the dog poop, we’re a friendly and kind bunch. 😉

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  15. Pingback: Craving life | and yadda yadda yadda...i made aliyah

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