On A Thing Itself

Sometimes insight visits the most unlikely spots…Yesterday morning as I was sunk in the depths of a fragrant bath, an idea bolted my way as one possible reason for some of the gun love Americans suffer. Bear along…

There’s a valid notion that we all reject thought (let alone engagement) within those arenas where our limitations glare. For me, that’s athletics. Not pure sport or the love of play, both areas where I can be reasonably comfortable. But the notion of any competitive team sport participation leaves me with an urge to piss on the spot where it’s even suggested.  I usually dismiss team sport figures as unworthy of a moment’s notice. The announcer’s voice of the high school sports segment coming onto the late local newscast never fails to make me change the channel with a reflexive, nasty snarl. Why?

It has to be the sack race. Yep, that horrible Field Day event in grade school where you’re stuffed feet first into a closed burlap sack and forced to run in a straight line towards all of the teammates that you are disappointing with your clumsy gait and scrawny, losing attempt. Even before the game began, even before the school day began, even before breakfast on Field Day, my palms and armpits were soaked in dread.

The same goes for people who slap away their emotions and who seemingly view intimate connection as hogwash. This is where Mad Men’s Don Draper lives, in the world of incessantly running from his emotional life and using the most convenient avenues to relieve his anxiety over it. He’s the dog chasing his own tail, the guy who can nail an emotion with an idea and use it to tap the current of the human stream without bothering himself to swim there because of the terror that he might drown by his own flailing stroke. Dangling perilously above it all, he’s consumed by the same thing that moistens my hands even now when I dream that some grungy schoolyard gang is choosing sides for the sack race and I’m being scrutinized for my inability.

In the Oxford Dictionary, the word “fear” shares its origin with the word “revere.” To hold in awe. What makes us tremble and sweat can be part of why we hold uncomfortable ideas at arm’s length. There are those who can’t accept the reality of ourselves as flesh and blood, finite beings. Unable to deal with the fear of being physically afraid, I believe these are the folks who load up on guns. These are the people who react wildly and viscerally to any rational discussion of gun control by feeling, in a place way beyond what’s logical, supremely threatened when they are called upon as a group to be accountable.

Trying to imagine what it would feel like living in a home with guns, I wonder how those who own them and keep them to hand might fall asleep with a sense of safety that is different from my own. I feel plenty safe. Still there are those rare nights when I wake up suddenly with a jolt, my heart pounding at some loud noise in the unknown distance. I know that having guns would not prevent my waking, nor the beating of my heart in my ears. Yet I can understand how the notion of adding a violent layer of self protection into the mix might fool someone into feeling that she is putting her fears to bed as she is buying that gun, pushing dread away where she believes she can manage it. For someone like this, a frightened waking in the night could be unbearable.

Human inadequacy is plentiful, and just maybe the trick is to slowly work to feel competent where the gap is greatest. I might sign up for a physical competition of some sort, Don Draper may learn to swim in his emotional current (and move beyond the simpering user Megan), and it’s possible that somewhere in America today a gun owner is dismantling a firearm and turning it in for a gift certificate because she realizes that her fear places her in the greatest danger, and that the end of fear begins with recognition of it for what it is – a thing itself.


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