About 27 or 28 years ago I learned something that I’ve carried with me all these years. In these dark days it seems like we are playing a game of global whack-a-mole.
First a dirty, lying, science-and-fact-denying and aggressively anti-intellectual strain completely takes over one of our nation’s political parties. Then pops up a lying, philandering sociopath know-nothing who knows only how to play a symphony of racist, homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic discord on a dog whistle.
Then a virulent global pandemic strikes. Then the worst economic conditions since Herbert Hoover. Then then then. And then somewhere, 20% of the inhabitable earth is under water in the next 50 years, that is, if we don’t first immolate because of greenhouse gases.
Here’s an opinion piece I remember from “The New York Times” from January, 1988. It’s 32-years-old, but you could update it in about six minutes and run it again tomorrow. It’s called, “Worry Chic.”
There's always something to worry about. Herpes, crack and nuclear holocaust have not gone away but have become passe worries.
A trendy era obeys fashion even in its fretting. Here are some worries that have already infected 1988.There may be urethane in the wine.
There may be parasites in the sushi.
Radon, an insidious, invisible, radioactive gas, could be seeping into your basement.
There is too much ozone in the air you breathe, which damages the lungs.
There is too little ozone in the stratosphere, which lets in ultraviolet rays that burn the skin.
The world may get too warm, because sunlight is being trapped, as in a greenhouse, by the growing veil of gases spewed out by burning coal.
The world will get too cold if the next ice age arrives before the greenhouse effect does.
The dollar may make a strong recovery, ruinously reversing improvements in the balance of trade.
You may suffer a heart attack if you exercise too little.
You may suffer a heart attack if you exercise too much.
Even if the wine has no urethane, it probably contains sulfites. Or the beer may.
And in any case, both are laden with a more pernicious chemical -alcohol.
Does all this mean that modern life is burdening Americans with more and more worries?
No-- just different ones. Worries grow stale and need to be changed.
It's the disposition to worry that endures.
Anyway, back to 27 or 28 years ago. My older daughter, Sarah, now with a PhD. in Clinical Psychology was in summer day camp. She came home fretting. “Dad, I’m really scared. Tomorrow, I have my swimming test to make “A” water. I have to swim seven laps without stopping and I’m afraid I can’t do it.”
Wow. You might know angst in your life, but feeling the pain of a child who’s scared tops them all.
Somehow, I summoned up a soupcon of wisdom.
“Sarah, you’re a very good swimmer. We’ve done a lot of swimming. You’re very strong. And here’s the thing. You don’t have to swim seven laps.”
“No, Daddy, I do.”
“Sarah, you have to swim one lap. And when you touch the wall you say to yourself, ‘now I have to swim one more lap.’ When you touch the wall again, you say to yourself again, ‘now I have to swim one more lap.’ Don’t think about the seven laps. Think about swimming one lap at a time.”
There’s not a single person in the world who knows what’s coming next. As they say in Yiddish, “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht.” Man Plans and God Laughs. None of us knows anything.
None of us knows if clients will ever spend money again. If the agencies that seemed like global institutions in December will be belly-up by June. No one knows if there will be global unrest, mayhem in the streets, Molotov cocktails and class-warfare.
None of us knows if the new Russian deepwater submarines will cut our undersea cables and sever 99% of worldwide communications.
No one knows if Trump will lose whatever remaining marble he has and the DeVos and Friess and Koch and Mercer families will finally assume complete control.
No one knows if there will be food in the stores, blood in the streets, filth in our water supplies and toxins in our contrails.
No one knows.
What I do know is what my daughter taught so many many years ago.
We’ll do what we can.
We take one lap at a time.
And we pass whatever test the world throws at us.