I am scared of pretty much everything these days. Watching the news, my teeth chatter because of mass shootings and because of Donald Trump and because people give a shit about Kanye and Kim’s baby’s name. Watching The Big Short, my knees shake because the country was robbed and because it’s so obvious and because the robbers are still coking/whoring/laughing as they invent new ways to steal from the poor. Watching my neighbor’s skinny, old dog, my stomach knots because he hobbles in the yard alone and because he gets fed only once a day and because his owner means well but won’t listen.
Yes, I am terrified. Maybe I have always been terrified. When I was 7, we moved into a new house. It was shaped like a U and the kitchen was near the front door. I could never get water in the middle of the night, even if I was thirsty, even if I was parched, because the cooler faced a street window. I would picture a murderer’s face looking in, waiting for me as I filled up my blue cup. When I was in college, I’d walk home late from my cocktail waitressing job with a wad of cash in my pockets. The dark side streets of New York City felt huge and fast, and I’d pull my coat tight. I’d pretend to be waving at somebody, anybody, so that the imaginary bad guy behind me wouldn’t think I was by myself, prey for the mugging. And now it’s corrupt government and ISIS and the hormones in our food. It’s sex trafficking and police brutality and the fact that water is disappearing and we can do something about it but only like six people care. Now it’s cancer and texting while driving and being ridiculed, being excluded. It’s 100 ways we use social media to disconnect or money to pretend we’re superior. Now it is EVERY SINGLE THING that keeps me awake.
I have felt shame about my fear for a long time. I have hid it, I have controlled food to spite it, I have forbade joy (thanks for the term, Brene Brown) as a way to avoid the vulnerability of living. If you are unhappy, you can’t get the rug pulled out from under you. If you are unhappy, you cannot hope. And when you don’t feel safe in the world, this is an illusion of security you’ll take because it feels better than not knowing and getting no guarantees. It feels better than being confused about hate and hurt and injustice. Worry creates a beautiful, mythical shield around you, a layer of protection, and even though it’s a lie, it will whisper and rock you until you forget the whole point. Until you feel so removed and so sick, you have no choice but to come clean.
I am coming clean. Maybe it’s in my blood. The Holocaust happened and I’m Jewish, and quite possibly my panic is DNA. I recently read Man’s Search For Meaning (the best book), and my heart broke for days. I asked my husband to promise me a holocaust would never happen again, to which he replied, “You’re putting a lot on me.” Maybe it’s inherited. Cuba became a communist country and my parents fled as tweens, and quite possibly my anxiety was modeled because their trauma was true. I think about immigrants today, not knowing the language, not belonging there or here, and I wonder how it must feel to float untethered. I asked my husband to promise me that our nation won’t cave to xenophobia, to which he replied, “You’re putting a lot on me.”
Does it matter why I put so much on him? Does it matter why I am terrified? I don’t think it matters. What matters is that I tell you now because I’m not so sure I’m an anomaly. Everybody seems petrified. Everybody has PTSD. Everybody is using something to put one foot in front of the other. This doesn’t comfort me, it doesn’t relax me to be in such good company; our collective fear only makes me more afraid. I wonder: What happened? Where will we go? When will it end?
The only thing I can think of as an antidote for fear is lastima. Lastima is the place where you end and somebody else begins. It’s not a gap there, it’s an overlap. It means we’re the same, and it means we’re together. It means don’t resist or fight or scream, because instead you can lean on the person next to you and weep, and after you’re done weeping you will smile because you’re being held. And it feels good. It means putting your fucking screen down so that you can lend a hand to the pear-shaped woman pushing a cart around Trader Joe’s, while doing business on the phone, while managing her two-year-old, while furrowing her brow. She is the product of what we have all become, and you opening her door, carrying her bags, making a face at her kid or simply smiling, will cue her to breathe. It means saving all the money you’d spend at Starbucks for the year, and instead giving a homeless guy a motel room when winter comes, or even shaking his hand, or even praying for him when you’re tucked into your warm bed. It means no child should fear getting water at night because the reality of the world became clear. We need a new reality.
It’s easy to cry out for change, outraged and incredulous (my specialty.) We point fingers. We look for big fixes. We talk a good game. But the hard part is in the every day doing, always in the doing, and I believe you don’t have to do much other than slow down and be here now. Open yourself up to lastima. It feels naked and perhaps you’ll even be scared of it for a moment, God knows I still am. But then you will be free. Because lastima is the currency that will turn things around, it is the sweet hum below all this noise, it is waiting to gently unravel our terror until it dilutes all of the dread. What is left when you lift up the garbage? Peace. Isn’t that what we’re after?
We’re all just vulnerable little peas. It’s so easy to squash us, to puree us, to eat us in one bite. Nobody is a carrot, you guys. Face it - you too are a pea. When you’re driving, think on that. When you’re clicking your tongue and shaking your head, think on that. When you’re looking in the mirror and the bags under your eyes feel heavy because your heart feels heavy because you can’t see the light anymore because the world feels so dark, think on that. And then feel lastima for yourself, for your neighbor, for the dogs, for the bad guys, for every single being. Even for Kim and Kanye and Donald. Then know that you have done a very good thing, you have loved Fear. And even He can’t resist that. Even He will crumble in your arms.
p.s. Postpartum depression? I don’t know. But I won’t be afraid of it.
p.p.s. You can’t tell, but that’s one of my sisters beside me in this picture. She is fearless. And oh, how I needed that then, and need it still. You fearless people out there…thank you.