Thursday, July 18, 2013

Postcards From My Childhood Part 10: Perils Are Not Infinite

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"The child is the father of the man", they say. Surprisingly, I understood this even as a child. And so I willfully sent forward to my elder self some thoughts and images which I knew would be helpful, and which I suspected I'd otherwise forget.

As a small child, I had a terrible fear of being lost in crowds. It wasn't the fear of separation, per se; it was that I didn't understand the world well enough to gauge the actual downside - to know whether I risked permanent separation. What if I never, ever found my parents? Would I wind up in some orphanage, dressed in rags and being served gruel?

Eventually, I came to understand that even if I did get badly lost, I would - by hook or by crook - that night undoubtedly find myself back home safely in my bed. I might need to undergo some fraught drama and run down some dead ends, but, really, that ending was inevitable. Lost kids at shopping malls don't simply plunge into an abyss.

Other kids, smarter than me, instinctually understood all this. They seemed oblivious to peril, with their innate understanding that risk doesn't extend to infinity.

This realization has applied widely: to broken hearts, crushing disappointments, disastrous failures, bracing humiliations, and bad situations of every stripe. Whenever I feel on the nauseous brink of permanent smoldering extinguishment of life as I know it - permanent total pain, permanent total inability to ever get back to my life - I recall my lost toddler self. I remember, viscerally, his sense of clammy dread at the prospect of infinite peril. And I walk with him through the instant when he realized that even if he made wrong moves, and adults in charge made lots of stupid decisions (as they so often do), and dead-ends were hit and gulping drama was experienced...he'd ultimately find himself back home safely in his bed*.

One problem is that an over-abundance of limp cliches apply. "One day you'll laugh at all this", "Tomorrow's another day", "This too shall pass" and the rest all roll way too easily off the tongue and can't match the deeper emotional wisdom of my childhood flash of insight, which evoked a deep-seated understanding, beyond words, that I'll still be me, living my life, no matter what. Perils are not infinite.

* I actually save this for particularly upsetting situations. My first line of defense is the "Oh, Shit!" Antidote.

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