There are times when the very air seems to tingle with fear. A denseness, an emotional humidity - a hot sense of weight, a feeling of smothering.
A moment of existential dread that permeates the air.
This isn't an acute fear: Oh no, a rabid dog! This is a subtler feeling, worse for its invisibility.
I've never been much prone to it, but I feel it more now as a parent. It's easier to handle the risks of the world for yourself, but for small children?
The news, lately, has been full of triggers. Anders Behring Breivik. A man sets off a bomb, and then, as if killing a bunch of people with a bomb wasn't enough, he walked into a camp of young people, mostly teens, and started a massacre. What struck me about this (aside from the fact that, when online, Mr. Breivik used emoticons - :P - after making jokes about exterminating people, which, if nothing else, is a flashing sign of the coming Internet Apocalypse) was just the faces of the victims. It's interesting to see pictures. A brief news account will have numbers, with whole lives lost between digits. How many memories might be hiding between 7 and 6?
Most of them were very young. One was 14, just a boy. They went off to camp, full of excitement. They walked out their front doors, same as always, and yet they would never come back. Their parents will be waiting forever.
The parents hadn't done anything wrong. And there was nothing they could do. Helpless hands; part of their lives stripped away.
And then there's the Berry story, about a family in a car accident. There's a beautiful part to this story, with the internet campaign that suddenly flashed everywhere to raise money for support of the children (Internet Redemption). But this was only needed because of the sheer suddenness of an accident. A car, an impact, and the parents were dead. The girl, the youngest of the three children, had a number of broken bones. The two boys were both paralyzed. Paralyzed and orphaned.
The parents have left, though not by choice. And yet there's a terrible fear in this for me. That somehow, just when my kids need me most, I won't be there for them. So strange. As a child, I probably had moments of fear: What if I become lost? What if Mommy and Daddy leave? But now I fear that somehow I will be the one to leave, I will be the one who's not there, swallowed by life or death.
My littlest is eighteen months. He's also a handful. Oh, he's a jolly, friendly little guy. But he's hell on wheels, running and climbing everywhere. I call him Evel Knievel for his escape tendencies. And the other day, while heads were briefly turned, he climbed into our car after a door was left open. He happily sat and played while a search went on around him.
But there is, in that moment, a dread. The looming up of the unknown, of chance, of the simple unknowingness of life. With my son it was nothing. Little Evel playing a trick, unknowing himself of what that trick might mean. But life can turn on a moment. The sudden impact of a car; a man walking onto an island with a rifle.
Random and merciless events of the indecipherable present.
And yet we have no choice but to live, to face that unknowingness. There's no way to hide. You need to gather yourself, to tell yourself a story of faith--to convince yourself. We hold to something: a faith in God, a faith in fate, a faith in ourselves, or a faith in the simple probability of hope. We hold to something. A faith in the mathematics of life, that hope divided by despair and dread will somehow equal a positive number.
Little Evel is climbing everywhere these days. I found him the other day, sitting calmly in the middle of the kitchen table, playing, having monkeyed his way up there (rappeling gear, perhaps?). You worry about a fall, you stay alert, you do everything you can - yet sometimes you simply have to trust in their balance.