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Monday, October 28, 2013

What are you afraid of?

Mr. Barlow, from Salem's Lot. Or possibly
Ann Coulter, without her makeup.
Happy Halloween week. 

I’ll tell you what I’m afraid of later (the list ought to include having to watch David Soul in a dramatic role). While he was home for fall break, my son Desi mentioned in kind of an off-the-cuff way that he had to stop watching a movie the other night because it freaked him out. It was not a slasher kind of freak-out, it was a creepy kind of freak out, which surprised me. He has always seemed to be much less afraid of just about everything than I was when I was a kid, but honestly, what is most amazing to me is that he never spoke about being afraid of things kids are supposed to be afraid of, e.g., the dark, vampires, wolf men, Frankenstein, devils, junk like that. When I was his age, I remember laughing through Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and waiting for Horror Theater to come on every Saturday so I could watch some ancient flick with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., or some combination of those.
 I would get chills watching Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Outer Limits. But as soon as the lights went out, I got scared. Every closet door seemed to open by itself, there were things going bump in the night, and I never could figure out whether having the door open or closed was better - a little light in the room made things worse sometimes than if it were completely dark. Was it just me? 

We were afraid of a lot of things in the 60s, notably, being incinerated in a nuclear war while crouching under our desks, or being tortured to death by godless communists parachuting into our cities to kill Catholics in a particularly horrible way. We were afraid of God, who could punish us forever for disobeying our parents (was that adultery?) or forgetting to do something we should have done (sins of omission), and afraid of the devil who was in charge of the eternal Abu Ghraib (this may be the reason I got Cheney and Satan confused all the time.) Fear was a big part of religion, and the people in charge seemed to feel it was better to do the right things for the wrong reason than not to do the right things. Catholicism was a sociological and moral ghetto more than a confessional (“God is love”) religion. We seem to have overcompensated a little, or not allowed the corrective Council enough time to take root, or both. Anyway, as far as I can tell, Desi isn’t scared of the devil or of evil spirits or even Russians, though I may have inculcated in him a passing mistrust of Republicans and the American League with its sissy DH rule. 

My idea of scary-creepy is Salem’s Lot, both the Stephen King novel and made-for-TV adaptation, and I have to admit that there were passages in the book that still creep me out, particularly when the two little boys, the brothers, are floating outside the window at night as newly-initiated vampires. The TV version did a good enough job of realizing that scene that I was creeped out again, though I guess over the years I’ve gotten a little more thick-skinned with regard to all the occult stuff. My empirical experience with the paranormal is limited but not non-existent, and I’m not confident enough of empiricism to be able to deny other people’s experience with the occult as chili-induced fantasy or delusion. At least, though, I’m not prone to lie awake at night (“prone to lie” — can I say that?) worried about vampires floating outside my window. I used to be, but not since I was 50 or so. ☹ One of the first movies I saw Anthony Hopkins in was a horror movie called Magic, and by modern standards, it was as old-fashioned scary as it could be. None of that Chucky running around with a knife or chain saw, but I was scared out of my mind every time I saw that ventriloquist’s dummy on camera. It harkened back to a Twilight Zone episode with Cliff Robertson called The Dummy. That, and my scary sisters’ doll all over the house, are probably the cause of my horror of inanimate hominids. Brrr.

Do you think that kids aren’t as creeped out by the occult and paranormal as we were because we don’t, as a rule in the Catholic church, make such a big deal about Satan and the personification of evil? And if so, do you think that’s OK? I think the not-being-afraid thing is healthy, but I wouldn’t want to lose sight of the fact that in fact some things are objectively evil, mostly relational things, and that there are consequences that play out horribly in real life if we choose evil over good (consequences like war, lynchings, starvation, rape, ethnic cleansing, genocide, poverty, slavery.) These consequences are terrifyingly real, because evil is real. In a way, I think fear is wasted on Frankenstein and slasher movies because they're so cathartic. We don’t have any fear left to be moved by our own action or inaction with regard to living moral lives. If you do good because of a boogie-man-God, is it better than not doing good? If we live a moral life out of fear (of punishment, like hell), is it better than living an immoral life? I'm not sure. It's better for the person who isn't killed, maimed, raped, or starved by my immorality, that's for sure, and so it's better for the planet, if not best for me and my actualization as a human being. I think desire gets misshapen by fear, and it ends up coming out of us in all kinds of nasty ways. 

I was trying to write down the things I am afraid of. It was meant to be a top ten list, Letterman-style, but I don’t know if I can make it to 10 or not, but here you go. Now, don’t be afraid to leave me a few of your own:
10. Ventriloquist dummies and dolls. Especially when their eyes move, or they start talking in the dark. I hate that.

9. Getting diabetes or lung cancer or some other horrible disease that is fraught with suffering, because I’m a sissy and I hate the thought of having to give myself shots or not being able to breathe.

8. Drowning. Or being in a plane crash, though I’ve learned to live with the plane thing, thinking it’s better than most other ways of dying. That, and the fact that from the standpoint of probability, you’d have to fly every day for about 50,000 years before the probability of crashing got to 50%, which is pretty good odds.

7. A Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan or Eric Cantor (etc) presidency.
6. Two more years of John Boehner.
5. Losing my job. And almost as great a fear is keeping my job, and losing my humanity and love for Christ and the church in because I can't get the spiritual, personal nourishment I need in the one I have.

4. Anything happening to any of my kids. In a way, I want them all to live dangerously, fully, learn and survive and be better, and not suffer too much for it.

3. Finding out, too late, that Mel Gibson is right, and God is a vengeful son-of-a-bitch who needed his Son to die hideously to appease him for the insult of human sin. In this case, I have genuinely wasted my life, and it would have been better to have tried to get Charlize Theron’s phone number, or being a salesman for Microsoft.

2. Forgetting everything, and knowing it. Alzheimer’s scares the sh*t out of me. I watched my Dad die from Pick’s Disease, and so I’m a little nervous about this.

1. Coming to the end of my life and having a blinding revelation that I missed something and all the damage I’ve done is just the tip of the iceberg. That I could have done more, changed things, and made life better for more people. All of that, and there’s nothing waiting with forgiveness and graceful, creative strategy to ameliorate the destruction I’ve caused. Or waking up and discovering I’ve become a cockroach, or worse, Michelle Bachmann. Talk about existence being meaningless...


What are you afraid of?