Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Business of Staying Alive.1

My terror of death has gotten worse lately, and it’s surprising—I guess I assumed the end would become easier to accept with age. Not so much with me. So, let me start by saying I’m sorry about how angsty this post is. Something practical will follow, I promise.

Underpasses have become harder to walk through, the threat of an earthquake a dull rumble from both above and below. I’ve always been conscious of reaching the underpass’s halfway point, knowing that the moment I feel the earth move, I should run forward rather than backward to escape the collapse—irrational, I know, especially after a Loma Prieta story I heard: a man told me the sidewalk was rolling along like the surf.

Somebody else told me an obsessive fear of death is the result of a Catholic upbringing. This could be true, although I’m not looking for pity here. I realize such fear is a luxury. I asked my grandma (who wasn’t, by the way, raised Catholic) how often throughout her life she’d thought about death, and she told me never—she’d worked so much, she never had the time. These days, though, 80-something and retired, she mentions death in most conversations. Which is healthy, I think, at her age, but I’m in my 30s.

Sometimes I wonder: would the world be a better place (i.e., people not be assholes) if we all knew what was going to happen to us when we die? Really know, I mean, through rational thought, not blind faith. Would there be less fear in the world, the source of so much human suffering? So many resources and such tremendous scientific effort are put into prolonging this life, but little go toward trying to answer the question of what comes next. The big question no one wants answered. But maybe I’m being overly curious here. Every year it seems like fewer mysteries remain in the world, and I know there’s something to be said for not having all the answers.

But back to that escalating terror, which it seems now is in the very air, it’s become such an effort not to absorb it. Could the places I pass through daily (subway tunnels, wastelands under the interstate) cause me terror merely through their repetition? Is that why they’re getting darker and less stable as I age—are they literally becoming the stamp of death? Haven’t I always expected it to end this way, in collapse, those same subway station tiles imprinting themselves on my forehead, finally, with the finality they’ve always promised? The constant unpredictability of cataclysms—as well as the effort it takes to stave them off—can be numbing.

Numbing or not, I like being alive, and so there’s something to be said for being prepared. Last year I put a lot of work into assembling disaster kits for both my boyfriend and me, and there was something nice about the control it made me feel. Part of this, of course, is illusion: as my grandma pointed out, it’s hard to brood when you’re busy. But it also doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

There is, though, a lot of denial around the need for such preparation. That’s why I’d like “The Business of Staying Alive” to be a semi-regular feature here, one small avenue for casual conversations around emergency preparedness. Now that I’ve got that angst off my chest, it’s time to get out the waterproof matches. Or put them away, rather, and wrap them in plastic, and remember where it was I put them. Tomorrow I’m going to post an interview with Nora Benson-Glaspey, who I’ve collaborated with in the past in the Runx Tales feature, “Nora Stories.” She’ll talk about her experiences going through CORE (Citizens of Oakland Respond to Emergencies) training, as well as her time living in New Orleans both before and after Katrina.

To be continued . . .

Recommended Reading: Junot Diaz, “Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal”; Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism; Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communites That Arise In Disaster; Elaine Scarry, Thinking In an Emergency

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