The culture of fear has surreptitiously crept up and now seems to pervade our lives. We take it for granted, most of it, and tragic events keep reminding us why it is (at least partly) justified. But the toll of such a culture on our lives, really, what a weight!
Courtney has recently illustrated this point with her usual talent. At about the same time, I read a wonderful short story in the New Yorker, by an author I didn’t know but now wish to learn more about. She retells the very banal event of a play date in New York. Play-dates aren’t something I’m used to: I don’t have children, and when I was one, such things were kept rather informal. But the story soon turns out that the ones who are playing are the mothers, not the daughters. One is a woman from Ohio who recently moved to New York for her husband’s work, the other a divorced, rather intellectual mother. Their lives are full of fears and threats and messages of caution and strained optimism, just like this school session for parents where they met, called “Raising a Calm Child in the Age of Anxiety; or, How to Let Go and Lighten Up!”, where they were advised to keep an anxiety journal. This play date is a privileged moment where they are able to shake off the burden of the culture of fear, and honestly confide in each other. It’s beautifully, delicately drawn.
“What have you got?” Fran says. She’s pouring [wine] and doesn’t notice.
“Oh, nothing,” says Liz. “Your anxiety journal.”
Fran stops. “You were reading it?”
“Oh, God, no. Of course not. I just saw it here and picked it up. I mean, I was thinking, Good for you, and remembering that I’ve been meaning to buy one, or get one. I’d write, ‘TV-dinner tray.’ ”
“ ‘TV-dinner tray.’ Like the one you’re holding. It makes me nervous and I can’t tell you why.”
Fran looks down. “It belonged to Richard. He liked to eat in front of the news.” “Exactly.”“Maybe it’s the news you associate it with.”“Maybe.”
“See? She had a point,” Fran says. “Cheers!” They toast and sip the wine, which is delicious chilled, Liz says—she never thinks to do that. “You should,” Fran says. She takes the anxiety journal and tucks it beneath one of the sectional cushions. “To playdates!” she says, toasting again.
While details of their lives may be exotic for those like me who live outside the U.S., we are no strangers to the same culture of fear. The more we integrate it into our lives, the more control we wish to have over everything, and as a corollary, the more we accept that others control everything for us. There always will be things we can’t control, even terrible things, but also beautiful ones. Out of fear we might just be giving up on luck that goes with a free life.