In the 1st grade I feared Vietnam. It’s coming for me, I thought. Every week more and more Vietnamese children showed up at my school. These kids would hide under their desks every time a low flying plane or helicopter passed over the classroom. I saw it on the news and thought….it’s only a matter of time until that war comes here.
In the 5th grade I feared the Ice Age. My teacher did a unit on climate change and how the Ice Age could happen again. Just a few degrees a year and everything would change. Every time it snowed that February I got sick to my stomach and worried…it’s only a matter of time until the ice sheets come here.
In Jr. High and High School I feared the Soviets and the Atomic Bomb. I saw things in the news when I was younger, movies like “Red Dawn”, “The Day After”, and “War Games” made this threat believable. I wondered where I would hide if the bomb dropped. We had no bomb shelter. I was sure Regan’s re-election would cause the next World War. I would wake up from nightmares and go to my parents room…it’s only a matter of time until the bomb drops.
In 1989, I traveled to Spain to study. I met a German boy who told me to fear the Japanese. “They own your country, you know? They could just take over any time they want.” Enlisted friends back home were being told they were going to be sent to the Persian Gulf. I felt a little too close to the Middle East on the Iberian Peninsula. At the same time East Germans were beginning to be allowed to cross into West Germany at sporadic moments. The feeling in Europe was that the end of the Eastern Block was coming, could it be peace?….it’s only a matter of time…
In my first years of teaching, a student at a nearby high school went into his class one morning and shot at his fellow students and teachers. The PE teacher put himself between the gun and the students. He lost his life. Within the next two years there were a series of horrific school shootings: Mississippi, Thurston County, Columbine. Planning in the afternoon at my desk I would think to myself… it’s only a matter of time until a student brings a gun into my school…
Years later I woke up to the normal morning routine. I showered, poured my coffee, and turned on the news. At that moment on the West Coast, I watched the first tower collapse. Days of speculation and demonization from the media coverage sapped my brain with fear. Didn’t I just fly out of Boston last week? The ticket counter didn’t even ask for my ID? That could have been me. And every time I board a plane and look over at the woman with a head scarf or I see the Arab man with beard check his overhead luggage mid-flight for the 5th time…it’s only a matter of time before my plane drops out of the sky.
In my second year of teaching in Germany my parents were coming to visit at Christmas. I was excited to take them to the numerous Weihnachtsmarkts around our home. There is nothing like a German Christmas. But then the news was alive with death threats. A terrorist cell was planning Mumbai style attacks to destroy the infidel while they were doing their capitalist best at Christmas. What do I do now? Our Weihnachtsmarkt is one the bigger ones. Hundreds of tour busses flood into the area each year. Do I keep to the side streets? Do I go on the weekend or stick to the week nights? So I would lie awake at night planning my routes ….it’s only a matter of time before a terrorist shoots into my crowd.
And this week I sit planning my summer. Do we go to the East Coast or the West? Seattle might be within firing range of the North Koreans. The East Coast could be buried in ash by the Yellowstone Super Volcano. And as I contemplate my participation in my first half marathon, there is one more thing to fear…it’s only a matter of time before I’m blown up at the finish line.
I know I’m not the first to have lived in fear of such things. Primitive cultures feared the weather; one bad winter or summer could starve you to death. A lunar eclipse would make you fear the apocalypse. My own ancestors in Ireland woke up one morning to spots on their potatoes. They had no time to fear but maybe they feared what would happen next. They were lucky enough to get to America, but even then, farming and the weather… it was a risky business.
My husband’s mother was pregnant with him during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She was now “safe” in the United States after years of trying to get her visa to move from Germany. She survived the fire bombing of Hamburg. Her husband survived a Russian Prison Camp, yet her father wasn’t as lucky. He died in the Gulag. There was always that thought in the back of her mind in Hamburg that the Russians were too close. You know what she must have been thinking, watching the news in upstate New York,…its only a matter of time.
It’s only a matter of time but “every generation’s got its own disease.” I’m tired of living in fear.