So I’m back to reading The Beast by J.R. Ward, after my brief sojourn through Katie MacAlister’s short stories. I can find blog topics in J.R. Ward’s books faster than my kids can collect Pokemon with their phones. I worry they will get run over while playing Pokemon Go and not paying attention to reality. And while it may seem like I’m digressing (as I often do), I’m not. Today’s topic is all about anticipation (mostly of bad things happening—which is the definition of “worry”), and the feelings of anxiety we experience when we contemplate catastrophe.
In The Beast, Mary contemplates the wound that almost took her mate, and wonders what would have happened if she hadn’t been inspired to intervene as she had. She speculates that, “Sometimes the near miss is almost as traumatic as the impact.” True statement. But, despite the positive outcome, her fear lingers. I think that this is true for most of us. We keep seeing the traumatic event in our mind’s eye over and over, thinking about what might have been in the dystopian alternative. Instead of the events in question being played repeatedly in our heads, though, this particular movie gets projected over our entire future lives, tarring it all with the same brush of stomach-churning dread. When one calamity has been avoided, we often look for other bullets to dodge.
When we’ve suffered a near miss, we view the world as a dangerous place. Despite having deflected disaster, we become convinced there is one around every corner. This is the companion ticket to waiting for the other shoe to drop. When things are going well, we wait for the hammer to fall. The same thing happens when we experience a near miss. Maybe somewhere in our brains we think that if the lightning misses us once, it will probably strike the next time.
It’s interesting to observe the almost universal conviction that random bad things are so much more likely to happen than arbitrary good things. We never “worry” that we’ll win the lottery a second time. But many of us, myself included, obsess about having a second car accident, or getting the flu on our vacation, or our periods when we have an important sports competition (well, I’m guessing men don’t worry so much about that one).
A near miss colors all future events with a dark cloud of pessimism. It’s like we’ve used up all our luck, now we’re cruising on fumes. We figure the good stuff will never reign down on us again, and next time the impact will be twice as bad as it would have been if we had experienced the trauma for real. After all, someone is out there keeping score, and making sure we don’t get too much of what makes us happy, right? Wrong. But we think like this anyway. Or maybe I’m just a freak. Hard to know sometimes.
But the most significant crime committed by our brains after a near miss is that we cease living in the present moment. Just as the endless loop I discussed before kept us mired in the muddy rut of our pasts, the near miss propels us like Christopher Lloyd’s DeLorean back to the future. We aren’t moving forward into prospective possibilities, but back to the near death event that now overshadows the entire wreckage of our future. The one place we aren’t hanging out is in the moment, where the bad thing never happened (remember, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades). The future isn’t here yet and isn’t any more likely to be bad than it was before the near miss. But our brains just can’t compute that.
Having said all of that, trauma is trauma, and apparently the mind can’t always distinguish between truth (we’re all okay, the sky didn’t fall) and fantasy (where Henny Penny is running around like the chicken she is—although with her head still firmly attached). And we need to honor our reality. So if fear and being like Eeyore is what we’re about, then that is where we are. The thing to do at this point is acknowledge reality … so that we can change it. So many of us, like Mary, discount our feelings because our life sentence was commuted to parole. We think to ourselves that we have no legitimate reason to be upset, so we convince ourselves we’re not. And this works for you how? Yea, not for me either.
So let’s come back to the present instead of back to the future or hanging out in the past. Time travel never takes us where we want to be, and there is so much opportunity to screw everything up. We have no guarantees of tomorrow, so squandering today on a potentially empty promise is more traumatic than the near miss or the impact ever could have been.