Reasonable Fear

When you are climbing up a rock wall, you spend a lot of time assessing things. Is that grip a good one? Do my feet feel secure? Are my arms too tired? Often there is a mental struggle between unrestrained terror (OMG I am so high up, I am going to die!!) and reasonable concern. (Is my knot tied correctly? Is the caribiner locked? Is my belayer paying attention? Ok then, climb on!)

I have one of those brains that likes to get carried away sometimes, particularly when it comes to my health. (Something hurts today, it must be jiu-jitsu related. It still hurts a few days later? Maybe I am sick. A week later? CANCER!! ) People with health anxiety learn to distinguish between normal concern and paranoia. We learn to give our body a chance to fix things first. We stay away from Web MD and under no circumstances do we Google any symptoms, ever! We get our annual blood tests and scans and then we avoid the doctor the rest of the year, unless that cough gets worse, and then we just go get a Zpak.

This mental gymnastics is what living in NYC is like nowadays. I remember back in 2012, feeling relieved that the horror of Sandy Hook occurred on a Friday. I had a whole weekend to cling to my own child before I had to exhale and drop her off at school again, knowing fully well that there was a slim to nothing chance of anything bad happening at her local Brooklyn school but nervous nonetheless. The first time I rode the subway after 9/11 I was a mess, even though the heightened security in the city at the time probably made it the safest ride I ever took.  

Now there are bombs in Chelsea. And once again we all have to wrestle between reasonable caution and panic. That is what terror attacks do. They mess with your sense of normal. Are there more bombs out there? Do I keep my whole family home, inside,  forever? Eventually, because we are New Yorkers, we simply grab our Starbucks and we go. We drop the kids off at school. We head to work. We change nothing because like one interviewee said in the NY Times today, "If its happening, its happening." 

This morning everyone got an emergency alert on their phones. The FBI is searching for a suspect. He may be armed and dangerous. Everyone tiptoes around his Muslim name. We don't want to offend anyone. The Trump supporters say look what happens when you let those people into our country. The Hilary supporters say that a bad guy is just a bad guy and we shouldn't generalize. It is a stupid debate. This new guy is probably an Islamic terrorist. Adam Lanza was a white dude with a gun. I have Muslim friends whom I love who would never hurt anyone. I have white friends who are filled with more hate and anger than all of Isis combined. 

None of that matters. What matters is kissing our kids goodbye and watching them walk through the schoolyard. What matters is driving over the bridge into Manhattan and wondering, wondering. What matters is that we still need coffee in the morning, that laundry still needs washing, that our boss still needs that file by noon.

In November of 2004, I called my karate instructor's cellphone multiple times and no one answered. Later that morning, we learned why. And although my brain knows fully well that a phone going to voicemail does not always mean a dead body, I can do nothing about the flood of panic that overtakes me whenever Matthew does not answer his. He goes off to jiu jitsu every single Tuesday and I make him text me when he gets there. It is stupid. I know it is stupid. He is no more likely to die on the BQE on the way to class than I am likely to plummet off of the rock wall. But it is what it is. 

So here we go again NYC. Another day of weighing what is reasonable. Do you take an Uber to work today instead of the subway, just in case? Do you drive down a different street? Carry a knife in your pocket? Ask your spouse to text you when he gets to work? And maybe again at lunchtime? Or do you do nothing different because by now this tiny humming undercurrent of fear is old hat. It is normal. It is just our life, we are New Yorkers, and fuck if anyone is going to keep us from our Frappachinos.

Be safe out there everyone. 
Whatever that means.


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