Fear Itself

The last time I wrote about covid, I received a nearly-anonymous comment from someone hiding behind his or her WordPress handle, mocking me: “So much fear!” And taunting, reveling in his or her “freedumb,” although the commenter forgot to spell it that way.

I opted not to post the comment; while I believe in free and fair discourse, preferably where people are willing to put their name to it, it is my blog and there is plenty of disinformation out there in the world these days without me providing a platform for more of it.

But I have been giving the comment more consideration than it probably deserves, and I have concluded that why, yes, I am a cautious fellow. I can’t bring myself to feel bad about that.

I always wear my seatbelt. I drive the speed limit, or below it. I drive defensively, as I was taught in high school by Mr. Nims.

To clean screens at work I put on apron, gloves and safety glasses. I put on a helmet (safety yellow) before riding my bike at any time, and add a reflective safety vest or pants before setting out in the dark.

I generally stop before attempting brute force, which is why Lynn is having to plug our outside holiday lights in — every time I try it, it feels like the little copper tines are going to snap off. (In my defense, several very experienced do-it-yourselfers have struggled with our outdoor electrical sockets.)

I’m not much of a brancher-outer, which I’m pretty sure is a legitimate compound noun. I’m generally okay with this, and with the course of my life, where it has been and where it seems headed.

There is, of course, a SpongeBob episode that covers this very topic, where SpongeBob and his friend Patrick decide they need to be “living like Larry,” a daredevil lifeguard — which, when you think about it, is rather oxymoronic.

Goaded by Larry, they conclude that they have been living too sedately. Their response, predictably, is that they take it too far the other way — or at least Patrick does, strapping himself to a skateboard to scream down a rollercoaster that ends abruptly over a large chasm filled with monsters.

SpongeBob draws the line there, but later, after inadvertently knocking over a series of motorcycles and finding himself chased by the angry bikers, he discovers endorphins and joins Patrick in a quest for ever-more dangerous stunts. At this point Larry’s lifeguard training kicks in and he attempts to rescue them, only to see all three of them maimed and in the hospital. [Nominally, at least, this is a kids’ show.]

While SpongeBob may or may not learn his lesson — the episode ends with him on the run from Larry for still trying to “live like Larry” — I came to one of my life-caution lessons in my 20s.

Here is my confession: I used to be a speeder, just like the rest of you. I always wore my seatbelt, because that’s what my grandparents charged me for the car they “sold” to me. Mindful of Mr. Nims’ tutelage (his name was Larry, but he was more like Larry the Lobster in lifeguard mode), I kept a wary eye on other drivers, and if I didn’t come to a complete stop at every sign, I always heard Mr. Nims in my head. But I did like to drive fast.

One impatient day, heading toward Gunnison from Denver and dropping down to Shaeffer’s Crossing, I pulled out into the closest of the two oncoming lanes to pass I’m not sure how many drivers, because there was a ton of traffic. Including two full lanes of it coming up the hill straight at me.

Some kind, wise soul behind me applied their brakes, allowing me back into my lane of traffic before I caused a massive, three-lane multi-car pile-up. Unlike many boneheaded drivers who do something similarly stupid but just keep charging ahead, this sobered me up greatly.

It wasn’t about the possibility that I could have died, but how many other lives I might have wrecked. There was nothing in my need for speed, or a desire to get to Gunnison, that justified any amount of carnage I could have created in that one instant. Shaken and chastened, I dropped my speed that day and have never found a reason to go zooming along since.

Maybe that’s the difference between me and people like my commenter, who believe the world is all about them and what they want to do.

It took me awhile, after this comment and assessing that yes, indeed, I do lead a rather cautious life and I’m okay with that, to realize that fear comes in all sorts of shapes and flavors, and this commenter has fears of his or her own. Fears that I don’t share.

For instance, I’m not afraid of masks. Well, clown masks, yeah — who isn’t? But a little strip of cloth or paper across my face at work and while shopping? Doesn’t terrify me, but there are three people busily, and going about it poorly, suing our school district because they are traumatized that their children are traumatized by having to wear a mask.

One of them — the one who moved here with some amount of money and apparently a vision of all us little fishes in his new pond bowing to his command — has announced loudly and many times in public that his child is in therapy to deal with this. At a guess, the mask isn’t your kid’s problem, bub.

I’m not afraid of vaccines. I don’t love them, since all three doses of Moderna and one for flu have each taken me out of circulation for a day, but I do feel, in the wake of 800,000 American deaths and today’s news that some covid cases seem to be causing a heart condition, that these are not something to fear but rather to embrace as a miracle of modern technology.

I’m not even afraid of the microchip inside the vaccines. (Oh, wait: didn’t I say something about not furthering disinformation on the internet?) Well, I’m not worried and neither should anyone else be. Not if they have a cellphone or even a club card from every store they patronize. Don’t forget: the National Security Administration turned out to have been monitoring computers way back in the Obama day. If you want to fear this one, that ship sailed long ago. Embrace your microchip — it lets Bill Gates personally keep you from getting really sick.

I’m not afraid of science. I don’t like what it’s telling me sometimes, damn those climate scientists, but I don’t fear science. Or knowledge. Being able to make an informed choice, rather than misinformed, is extremely liberating.

It’s like living like Larry. Maybe of the Nims variety rather than the lobster type, but it’s still living in the real world, rather than cocooned in a wrap of terror that puts reckless freedumb lovers in harm’s way. And not just them, but everyone else sharing the road with them.

So you exult, commenter, in your highly selfish freedumb, but don’t talk to me about fear, because you’re trapped by a lot more of it than you realize.

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