I was recently riding the bus from San Francisco to Los Angeles and, as is often the case while in transit mindlessly looking out a smudged window, I filled the void by worrying about terrible things happening to me. My mind drifted to that horrific story about the man who was stabbed to death and decapitated on a Greyhound bus in Canada a few years back. I slowly tilted my head to the left and sized up the portly man who had just sat down next to me, looking for any signs of sinister motives.
I understand that this is, in reality, a ridiculous premise. The idea that I should forever sleep with one eye open on a bus because one unspeakably terrible thing happened one time is preposterous. But it doesn’t stop me from doing it and it doesn’t stop the belief that a similarly terrible fate could await me. The anxiety I feel does not pause to calibrate the proportion of the unlikelihood this will ever happen to the amount of fear that is welling up inside me. I’m in the process of freaking myself out and nothing I can tell myself or do is going to make me change my mind. Until I start making my uncle’s humming sound.
My uncle used to do this thing while riding his bicycle where he just makes this quite humming noise to himself saying “mmmhmm” over and over again. “Mmmhmm…mmmhmmm….mmmhmmm.” It’s a sound that I take to mean “I’m riding my bike right now with my nephew and whatever happens or doesn’t happen is what’s going to happen and in this moment and now this one and now this one the things that are happening are good.”
I turn off the excitable newsman in my head, close my eyes and fall asleep. The bus keeps moving.
*** “It’s getting to the point where you can’t even go outside anymore!”
People typically say this after they watch the local news. And if you spend most of your time inside your house watching the local news, I don’t blame you for never wanting to go outside again. Because it’s a grand parade of grim, unyielding, unsuspected death. Murders, fires, car crashes and—when those start to dry up momentarily—various sordid tales of people doing generally unspeakable things to each other.
But I’ve been outside recently and I’ve been Ok and I’m pretty sure if you go out there, you’re going to be Ok too. Honestly, it’s pretty nice out there. I’m not so naive to say those aforementioned terrible things never happen or can’t happen to me or you. Unfortunately, we live in a world where bad things do happen. But:
1) They probably aren’t going to
2) Our worrying about them isn’t going to make them less likely and
3) The news is stupid…or at the very least grossly, irresponsibly disproportionate…or maybe just stupid.
4) There are about 316 million people in the United States. Last year 16,000 people were killed by homicide. The likelihood of it happening is 0.00005% (yes, that number is still much higher than other developed countries, but that’s a different story for a different day). You’re way way way way way (one for each decimal place) more likely to go outside and have a nice day walking around then you are getting killed out there.
5) Anxiety experts say there’s a big difference between being aware and being fearful. Awareness has to do with paying attention to your surroundings, taking action when there’s reason to. Constant, irrational fear is a focus on what could happen, worrying about it and feeling helpless to do anything about it. Well guess what? Anything could happen at any time. So if you choose to worry about it, you’ve got a lot to stay worried about.
6) I worked for as a writer for a local news station. What did I write about more than anything else? Murders, fires and car crashes. Was this because these things were happening more than other events? Obviously, not. If news items were covered in proportion to the realities of everyday life, we would literally have stories about 43 murders every day and about 316,128,795 stories about people waking up in the morning, taking their kids to school, going to work, picking up the kids, coming home and making dinner (or some variance thereof).
*** The bus pulled into Los Angeles’ Union Station. The guy next to me asked if I needed help with my bag. The people shuffled off. A couple joyously reunited and started making out in front of everyone.
I grabbed my bags and met my friend Sean in the parking lot. It was a beautiful day. You know what I do when people say, “Did you see the news?!? It’s like you can’t even go outside anymore!” I’m just like, “mmmhmmm…mmmhmmm…mmmhmmm…mmmhmm.”
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