Shaken, but Stirred
I’m the overly cautious driver who slowly backs out in a parking lot. Most commercial parking lots have the functionality of a demolition derby – narrow spaces despite the ginormous size of some vehicles, blind spots, limited turning space, cart racks askew. Add to that the tank-driving, texting mentality of some license owners (you’ll move, right?) and yesterday happened for me.
Backing carefully out, looking both ways, I nearly get rear-ended by a minivan rounding the corner at 30 mph. She honks loudly at me as I slam on the brakes and then speeds away. As is often the case when something like this happens, I think, I hate people and I need to go home.
Anxiety has been rather high this week. I have some weird medical shit happening to my body and have to go to the doctor. I haven’t been for several years except for flu shots, because I’m of the mentality that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Every time I’ve ever gone to the doctor, I’ve gone in feeling fine and I leave with some syndrome or abnormality that hey, I can either take a bunch of drugs for or I can wait and see. I usually take door #2 and that has kept me upright and functioning for a good 48 years.
Cue middle age. My body has become a three-ring circus. Hairs sprout in places that were previously erogenous zones. My eyes sink into my head – those luminous blues squint through progressive lenses and folds of saggy eyelids. I remember how my grandma always insisted on full makeup before she went anywhere. Now I think it was so she’d look like she had eyeballs.
Medical maladies, thanks to the internet, are either minor irritations or a death knell. Things I could ignore before, now keep me awake at night, as I think up game plans for every possibility. I try to keep myself on routine, make myself go through the motions of working out, but I’m tired and I feel weak. I feel vulnerable.
Politics, guns and religion are making me anxious. Following the coverage of the Iowa caucus, I see people cheering for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and I want to weep. It’s not the politics, it’s the way they have taken the stereotype of the Ugly American one step further – bullish stupidity and crass hatred. I don’t know why people think this will serve us well.
If we’re going to turn this country into a reality show, I’d like to vote some people off the island. And most of them are citizens.
Much of the public display of religion has become devoid of ethics. It is being used to justify repressing others and it all gets packaged up in an American flag, a cross, guns and a whole lot of whiteness. I believe that we should have the freedom to believe what we choose, up until the point where you’re in my government, in my bedroom or at my child’s school. Or showing up at my Target with an AR-15, when I’m just trying to buy toilet paper.
This is a whole lot of anxiety. It could be this way the rest of my life – just trying to get out of parking lots without getting hit. Hoping that each medical malady is just a bump and not a catastrophe. Trying to remind myself that the social and political cycles of my country ebb and flow.
I could sit in my little puddle of worry and fear, as my world and my worldview get smaller and smaller. I could learn to see the world in us and them terms and dogmatically embrace stereotypes as truth. I could become so blinded by the bad news that I believe the apocalyptic pronouncements spewed by religious and political leaders. We’re all going to hell in a hand basket.
But then there’s life. My daughter came home in tears because she had forgotten to do an assignment and then promptly lost the worksheet she needed to do it. Harshly, I said, “Stop crying about it and figure out a solution.” The forgetfulness and disorganization of a 6th grader was nothing new, but I heard myself. I heard the edge, the anxiety, the anger. This is what happens when anxiety takes over.
I slowed my breathing and asked her what she was supposed to learn from the assignment. She was supposed to compare and contrast Mohandas Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi. Wow. I suggested she write an essay doing that. She would turn it into her teacher with the understanding that she might get a zero on the assignment. She worked for two hours and with a measure of pride, asked me to read it.
How easy it is to forget the butterfly effect. Hers and mine. Gandhi’s and Aung San Suu Kyi’s. How easy it is to forget that an individual can make a difference in the world around them – that we do not need to rely on the loudest among us to lead the way. How easy to forget that being afraid does not abnegate responsibility to be kind, to be peaceful, to be compassionate. If everything in the world is going wrong, I’d rather err on the side of loving kindness.
We have a choice when we are frightened, when politicians feed us doomsday scenarios, as we age or when we simply have a bad day. I hugged my daughter and told her that I was proud that she worked so hard to fix a mistake. And now, I must work to fix my own.
Some Soothing Reading:
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön
Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham
Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams