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?
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 …
We are living in a world in which we are now, clearly, all easily startled.
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,
Knowing my fears are only imagined.