Friday, March 31, 2017

Pianos Falling From The Sky

There are those who feel that we live in a time of great peril and I reckon they're right, although I expect that it could also be said of all the time that has come before today, the only constant being change and all that. I don't think the current upheaval we see in our politics, for instance, is any more or less a harbinger than anything else, but it's nevertheless impossible to read the headlines on some days and not feel that the end times are near.

I'm not the first one to point out that perhaps the biggest difference between the present and the past is that we are now able, through the explosion of information technology, to instantaneously learn about all manner of awfulness around the globe, making what was once halfway around the world into something that feels like it has happened in our own neighborhood, to people we know, and that indeed it may even happen to us, as if we didn't have enough to fear. And I suppose that those fears are, at some level, reasonable: bad things can happen anywhere at any time. I could, in this moment, fall victim to a piano falling from the sky.

Of course, that's no way to live, ducking falling pianos, but we all do it to a certain extent, worrying about this world gone mad. The joke I sometimes tell, and sometimes nearly get slugged for telling, is that the difference between your phobias and mine is that mine make sense. And when I can step back, when I can emotionally disengage for a moment from my fears of the day, I see that much of the upheaval we see, and peril we envision, emerges from folks arguing about their fears, each telling the other that their fears are right or wrong, when the truth about fears is that they are all simultaneously reasonable and unreasonable. It's a frustrating truth, of course, but one with which humans have always had to live one way or another.

Shortly after the most recent presidential election, a four-year-old said to me, "I hate Donald Trump." I knew that he was echoing something he had heard from the adults in his life, so I said, "Oh no, what did he do to you?" He thought for a moment, then said, "I guess nothing . . . I guess I don't hate him." His wasn't the only comment along those lines during those first few days that rocked our politically progressive corner of the world and in my role as an important adult in these children's lives I strived to remain unafraid as I listened to adult fears as filtered through children. There was a part of me that craved the sort of "innocence" or "ignorance" that allowed my preschool friends to so easily set their fears aside, but I realize that I would just be trading one set of fears for another because they are all just pianos falling from the sky. 

No, fear is a sucker's game and we're all suckers, but the good news is that we're all afraid of different things. As adults who no longer fear the dark or the monsters under our bed, for instance, we help our children by listening to their fears from our mature place of fearlessness and it strikes me that this ought to be the way we can help our fellow adults as well. We all know that we will never successfully argue someone else's fears away, that fears are stronger than facts. The only thing that has ever worked to rid oneself of fear is to talk about it, to examine it, and to know that there are others who care about us who don't share our fears.

The problem, I think, is that we've found ourselves in a place in which we tend to be increasingly surrounded by those who share our fears, segregating ourselves into communities both physical and virtual that echo, ramping it up, making our phobias both more real and more terrifying. If the goal is to feel less afraid, we're not doing ourselves any favors as we become even more convinced that there is a falling piano with our name on it.

There are plenty of things to worry about. As Mark Twain said, "Those of you inclined to worry have the widest selection in history." I'm tempted to say that it's truer today than when he wrote it a century ago, but of course, I'd simply be proving the point of my joke across decades instead of just across the aisle. There are always pianos in the offing.

I can't tell anyone how to feel, but I can listen. I can't prove that you're wrong, but I can listen. I can't eliminate fear, but I can be there for your fears and you can be there for mine, and through your example, and only through your example, only through your fearlessness, can I become a little less afraid. That's why we need each other.

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1 comment:

Rebecca deCoca said...

Very wise, and brought tears to my eyes.