“In a time of destruction, create something.”~Maxine Hong Kingston.
I have never been fond of scary movies. I prefer to escape into a light comedy, to be amused for a while. I remember accompanying a friend to watch a couple of movies that were outside of my comfort zone (Jaws, and Carrie). For her punishment she ended up with big bruises on her arm where I held on for dear life! Long before that I remember going down the hill to Mrs. Munroe’s house on a Friday night to watch the Twilight Zone, and other late night terror shows. Gracey taught me the secret, turn down the sound and the fear disappears with the eerie soundtrack! Walking back up Salem hill in the dark later, the night was full of secret sounds and potential dangers.
For most of us, our childhood fears were mostly imaginary, fueled by tales and stories our elders would tease us with. As I grew up I knew that there were no such things as ghosts. The myths of rolling calves (you could hear the chain clanging against the road), amused me. The three wheeled coffin that was riding around the country guided by a couple of Jamaica’s scrawny ‘john crows’ (turkey vultures) was even more hilarious. Bob Marley immortalized that one (apparently they were ‘asking for Mr. Brown’). Wandering along country lanes late at night, our way lit by a bright full moon, (my friend and I were in charge of ‘following’ everyone else home after young people’s meeting) we would get a thrill out of imagining some of these monsters chasing us. It often meant we arrived home sooner than expected!
Of course with age comes new worries. Our fears are no longer imaginary. Or perhaps they are. We spend a lot of time obsessing on things that have not yet happened, that may never happen. We worry for our kids, for our loved ones, for ourselves. We hear news from around the world of the latest terrorist act, and we worry. Should we travel? Should we get on an airplane? Should we visit foreign lands?
The reality is that America is a scary place to live. The statistics paint a grim picture. The rate of death by gun violence is 25 times higher in the US than in other high income countries around the world. A few years ago, CNN reported that the number of Americans who die because of guns in the US, compared to being killed in a terrorist act (whether in the US or abroad) is more than 1000 to one. So go ahead and make your plans! If you live in the US, you are safer when you take that European vacation (despite recent events), than staying here!
But our brains are wired to react to fear in a primal, non-rational way. We survived as a species because of our ability to be aware of the terrors of the night, the threats of the jungle. Our nervous system still responds to fears (whether real or imaginary) by activating the sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight mechanisms kick in. And in getting us ready to perform superhuman acts of strength or speed, it gets our heart rate up and raises our blood pressure. And over time it recruits other unhealthy responses also: the stress hormone cortisol kicks in (the one responsible for that attractive belly fat that you can’t get rid of!). And although in small doses, in special circumstances, cortisol is an amazing anti-inflammatory, the chronic outpouring into your system keeps your blood pressure and your blood sugar high, and can cause ulcers.
So when we live in fear, believing that any day it could be our turn and we could be the next victim of some random and unforeseen act of violence, we are fulfilling our own prophesy. But the act of violence is more likely to come from within, from the damage we do to ourselves. We create our own unhealthy environment, and then stuff ourselves with comfort food to lull us into security.
The world is indeed a menacing place, full of real violence and rage. If we watch too much cable news we can be sucked into the narrative, and be sure that these are indeed the end of times. But men have showed their evil tendencies from time immemorial, from long before there were TV cameras or smart phones to capture every startling event. All that has changed is that we can now see these acts brought to us from every corner of the world as if it were happening next door. And the cortisol level rises.
It does us good every once in a while to reflect on how lucky we are. There are people in our world, members of our own human race, our own brothers and sisters who have to face deadly reality every day. Children killed by bombs; families drowned while fleeing war; young people with no expectation of living long enough to see their grandchildren graduate high school. We who live in relative peace have so much to be grateful for, we have no right to complain for one second about our luxurious lives.
I recently read a challenge to try to go for one whole day without complaining about anything. It is hard to hold on to an intention like that, when life presents itself, full of irritations and annoyances. But if you can at least start out the day with such an intention, with an attitude of gratitude for all of the positive in your life, you can start to generate more of the healthy, happy hormone DHEA which is the opposite of Cortisol.
This Friday morning, in a world full of beauty and hope, I challenge you to be part of an effort to spread the love, to highlight the positive. And whenever you get a chance, thank a plant! If it wasn’t for plants and chlorophyll, the world would not have enough oxygen to fuel our needs. And where would we be without oxygen?
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!