We’ve been hearing about global warming and its threat to our very existence for quite a few years now. The science is in. Yet, creationist naysayers and greed-driven corporateers — in the most unholy of alliances — obfuscate the reality, thereby blocking a time-sensitve appropriate human response. That’s
the back drop to our human saga in the 21st century.
Last week scientists announced the most massive toxic algae bloom ever in coastal waters from Alaska to California, poisoning fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and other sea creatures, including whales, with a toxin that can give a flu-like illness to humans. They’ve named it “The Blob”. You can read about it here.
This reminds me of the first horror movie I ever saw. It was 1958. I was eleven. The movie was showing at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Phoenix where my mother would sometimes drop my brother and me off on Saturday mornings to see cartoons and whatever movie happened to be there. This time the move was “The Blob”. Some kind of gelatinous guck that once it touched even a millimeter of your skin meant certain death. If it got on your hand, molasses-like it moved unstoppably inch by inch up your arm, as you watched in horror, knowing it would consume you and turn you into itself — more blob. I think it was meant to represent some cross between cancer and the Soviet Union (the two big fears of the day). Not that I was thinking this during the movie. I probably sat stone still in some hyper-anxious state of dread, but some time after, someone must have explained it to me.
Henry David Thoreau (who wrote the original essay titled “Civil Disobedience” which inspired Gandhi, MLK Jr. and others) said that the only place for a just person in an unjust society is prison. Just so, anxiety hardly seems a pathological response to the many life-imperiling issues of our day. You have to consider societal goings-on to see if the response is appropriate or out-of-proportion. If we could all just leave the rush and crush of our modern day existence for just a few months of “down” time at a Walden Pond-of-our-own, perhaps we could get some perspective, see as clearly as Thoreau did.
For most of us, caught up in paying our bills, doing our jobs and errands, trying to maintain health, and find some little portal to relaxation (the un-furrowing of brow, the dropping of shoulders) or at least distraction (a specialty of our time & place), we remain in our perilous state, uncertain beyond a voting booth every few years, a few petitions to sign, a few slogans to chant, re-cycling and composting, how we might actually be effective agents of positive change.
We watch with horror the slow, insistent advance of various “blobs” in their many newsworthy manifestations.
I heard on the news the other day that the Regal movie theaters (after the “Trainwreck” train wreck — 3 dead, 9 injured) are planning to implement some kind of checking of bags or other security measures before allowing people into the movie theatre. Of course, that only works if the shooter comes peacefully in the front door, and graciously opens his bag for inspection.
Which brings me back to the Paramount theatre in the 1950s, where the only real anxiety was on the screen. At least for me. Because I was only eleven. Outside the movie theatre, in schools, we practiced “duck and cover” for when the “commies” would eventually bomb us. HUAC was actually destroying many peoples lives. Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. were destroying more lives. In Guatemala, the U.S. CIA led a covert operation to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz and install a brutal right-wing dictatorship, thereby destroying the lives of many Guatemalans.
But in that little (actually, palatial) movie house, I felt safe. Except for the movie. Traumatized as I was by “The Blob”, I still don’t like horror movies, and never watch them. I try to take care of myself that way. Still, as a “dutiful citizen” I read the news, though it has a similar effect to the movie on my nervous system.
I write to un-freeze that state of frozen hyper-anxious dread. I’ve been told I take things too seriously. “It’s only a movie”. No movie theatre is needed to experience the new Blob, but if you do go to a movie theatre, be prepared to have your bags checked. I’m just sayin’…
Thoreau went to Walden to discover what was true for him. He wrote “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Thoreau inspires me. Each of our lives is our own woods. Being in the literal woods kept things more essential for Thoreau. Lack of distractions —Facebook, Netflix, a home and car to care for and repair, a variety of social relationships. These are some of the rewards of life, but also the distractions, which make getting at one’s own truth and true path more difficult to discern. In perilous times, it’s important to know where we stand, to have access (each of us) to our own moral compass. It would be good if we could move toward change with the determination and dignity of Nelson Mandela, Mohandas K.Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Malala Yousafzai. There’s no time to lose, but we rush at our own peril.
I’ve been off horror movies for a long time, but now, because of the for-real Blob, I’m off fish for the foreseeable future. Please take good care of yourselves too!
2 thoughts on “Anxiety, and the perilousness of our times…”
“There’s no time to lose, but we rush at our own peril.” Yes. Yes. Yes.
For me it’s not so much rushing through each experience. I’ve always tended toward slow and methodical, envying those who can read a book in a day, write a near-perfect poem in one sitting.
For me the “rushing” is wanting to do it all, so many good things calling me to say, “Yes”. And I don’t mean “good” ways to distract myself (although I’m definitely not immune to that problem). I mean “good for the world and for myself.” So many things to learn about (toxic algae), so much good work to support (the protection of Native American lands and cultural traditions is a new focus of my attention), so many fronts to help bring together (the climate movement and my Buddhist practice), so many conversations to nurture (sharing posts on Facebook and commenting on your blog are just two examples), and so many poems to read and write and respond to which requires retreat to Thoreau’s kind of quiet space.
Thanks for all you do, Gayle, and in this moment, thanks for inspiring me to sit down in the quiet of my house (altho as I type, the quiet is disturbed by ambulance sirens, the sound of suffering) to reflect and connect with myself and you and your other readers.
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Thank you Anita for engaging in the conversation in so many ways, verbal, written, walking-your-talk ways, your beautiful poetry. Your desire to mix the wisdom of wisdom traditions like Native American traditions and buddhism with the assertive and creative energy necessary to work for change. And not only your desire, your doing of it. I’m glad you’re taking time this morning for some “semi”-quiet/ urban-style reflection. xo, g
ps. And yes! of course, you are right. there are many, many ways to rush through our lives, our practices, our relationships, etc.
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