What She Doesn't Know Can Hurt Her

October 19, 2009
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“When I was born, I was falling.” These seven words contain nothing but the fear that encompasses us as humans for the entirety of our lives, no matter how short or long they may be. Not falling as in the physical action, but to fall psychologically into the unknown. All people, myself included, feel safe when we have at least a vague idea of what is happening in our world. When we do not know what is happening we cannot physically or psychologically prepare. I find that to be horrifying, but the majority of the time, that is the situation I am in. I cannot know everything. Like most people, I spend a fair amount of time so lost that it scares me to remember what I do not know. My unknown PSAT author was most certainly right: the first time we experience this horrifying, confusing chaos is birth.
Most people spend a solid nine months in the protection of their mothers’ wombs. I am rare in this sense. My mother rudely expelled me from her body after only seven and a half months of security. Like most people, however, I have no memory of this mildly important event in my life. From what I can assume, based on my knowledge of pregnancy and birth, it was messy and I was crying. A baby’s first cry is normally attributed to his or her first breath of oxygen and the coldness that overwhelms his or her body. However, being me, I probably had my own reasons. I would grow up to be scared of everything. The only fears that remain with me now are spiders, snakes, sharks, and the unknown, but this list used to contain everything alphabetically from beards to Santa (although I have no doubt there was a relationship between these two). I would like to attribute my first cry to the unknown. I had spent the only seven and a half months of my existence inside of my mother. It was dark, it was probably cramped. But to an infant, it was better than the bright hospital room with the faces of too many people, only two of which I have ever seen again. While I am now used to bright lights and unknown faces, at zero I probably thought I would die, although I had not yet conceived the notion of death. I cried because I was scared. I cried because I had no idea what was happening. I cried because I did not know.
Being scared of the unknown was a common occurrence in my young life. As a child, Halloween was fun in the security of a two-block radius from my home. Outside of this safety zone, however, it was as it should be: frightening. A person in a good costume is a person you cannot recognize, which was, to me, a horrifying concept. My first memory took place a few weeks prior to Halloween when I was still small enough to hide in a stroller. My mother had taken me downtown to see her childhood friend. We were walking somewhere when two men approached us. One was dressed in a gorilla suit and the other was in drag. I believe what scared me most was the gorilla. He had a nasty mask and a face I could not see. Some one was leaning into my stroller, cooing about how adorable I was, but I did not know this strange person. I have never cried so hard since.
While costumes and birth are very minor fears, other things that confuse us are much more intense. Our world is haunted by terrorism and other heinous crimes. If we knew when these attacks would happen, we could avoid them and we would be safe. But we cannot avoid them. We do not know when or where they will happen. That is what scares us the most: the idea that anything can happen to us and even the most insidious paranoia cannot protect us. The person offering to help us carry groceries to the car could be a Good Samaritan or a serial killer. There is no way of knowing. If you knew he or she would kill you, you would say no and tell the police. But you do not know. You cannot know without risking your life. I have never been in such a situation and never plan to be, but the mere idea that it could happen is enough to spread the paranoia all sensible people have.
When we are born, we fall into the abyss. Eventually, we are caught, but we are sometimes dropped back to the unknowing, if only for a moment. These moments are the scariest of our lives. We do not know when they will happen. We cannot prepare for a surprise attack, yet we cannot spend our whole lives on guard. It is human nature to be scared of the unknown. Humans are naïve and we need an explanation for everything. That is why we believe in supreme beings, so we can attribute everything to something. That is why we believe in karma, so when bad things happen, we can say we know why. And when people do not know who to blame, “They daren’t confide in each other, not knowing whom to trust; they are scared to speak out…” No one knows everything and much cannot be explained. I know little and I am scared of much. I cannot live my life in the paranoia that the worst is yet to come. But I am an average person leading an average life. I know average things. I am scared.

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