“You Can’t Live in Fear.”
I overheard this old school New York guy talking with an old school Eastern European lady at my local bagel shop. He said to her, “You can’t live in fear,” after she expressed her concern about the virus. He was telling her how he went inside for a dinner party and she expressed her disapproval. She doesn’t see her friends. She doesn’t go out. What is he doing? He tells her she can’t live in fear.
Oh no? She can’t live in fear? Yes, she can. So can I.
I lived in fear for the last five years, actually. And I was nowhere near as at risk as many people. How about all those who had to go into sanctuary because of predatory ICE raids? How about those who had to worry about every knock on the door? Or those who could be shot at the whim of a police officer who would never be held accountable for your murder? You think those folks weren’t/aren’t living in fear? Believe me, you CAN live in fear. It sucks but you can do it. Fear can keep you alive in dangerous conditions. That is its prime benefit. You ignore it at your peril.
We are all perfectly capable of living in fear. And honestly, our feelings don’t matter. Whether or not we’re afraid, we should still stay home. Not because of fear but because it’s the way to beat the virus, or at least be one less possible factor in spreading it. It’s such an odd disconnect, this notion that somehow taking care of our fellow humans is living in fear.
A moment after this man told this woman that she couldn’t live in fear, he was telling her to never touch anything to do with electricity. I laughed to myself “Why shouldn’t she try and fix her electrics if she wants to?” I thought, “She can’t live in fear!”
This guy wouldn’t see why I find his concern for her and electricity a little funny given his lack of concern for the virus. For him, electricity is real, it’s tangible, she could shock herself. But somehow, the virus is not real to him, even though it’s just as dangerous as playing with electricity.
To me, this guy going INDOORS to his friend’s apartment and having dinner parties, where they’re clearly unmasked, is just as risky as having a fraying wire in your electrics. It might not shock you. You might be fine. But it is risky. And not just to you.
Also — staying safe and protecting others is not, actually, living in fear. It’s living in kindness. It’s sacrificing one’s own desire for sociability and normalcy for the greater good. You think the rest of us don’t want to have dinner with our friends? That we’re just hunkering down at home because we’re fraidy cats? No, dude. No.
Personally, I want nothing more than to cozy up with some friends in some tiny apartment where we just eat and drink and sing and hug each other. I don’t really have a fear about doing that but I recognize that anyone involved in that dream dinner party is putting others at risk. To put it in terms you can understand, fella at the bagel shop, we’d be playing with electricity. When you play with electricity, you might get burned. Or you could set your place on fire and the fire spreads. So depending on the circumstances, your whole block could go up in flames.
Living in fear isn’t fun. No one wants to do it. But saying “You can’t live in fear” doesn’t justify taking risks with the lives of the people around you. This guy, who congratulated himself for not living in fear and going to parties, is now having a bagel, face to face, unmasked with a woman who has been taking every precaution. It’s her life he’s risked, really.
Somehow this phrase has become a kind of chant that charms the hearers into silence. All across the country people are congratulating themselves for not living in fear while their neighbors get rushed to the hospital and put on ventilators. You can live in fear. And for those who haven’t yet been afraid, you probably should for a little while. Or at least as long as it takes to actually start wearing masks and keeping your distance.
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