I hear an unfamiliar birdcall. “What’s that?”

Instantly Henry starts a paroxysm of high-pitched barks and I bite my tongue. Silly! By now I should remember that anytime I say, “What’s that?” or “Who’s that?” Henry will bark his head off. Aussie will raise her head and sniff carefully, reserving judgment, but Henry’s default is: bark 30 times first, look later.

In one of the Zen koans, the Buddha, talking of someone who came to him with a question, compares the man to a high-mettled horse that runs even at the shadow of the whip. He means it positively, as if to say that the person is so eager to hear, learn, and gain an insight that the smallest thing elicits a big response.

Lately I’ve thought about it in a different way. I think of Henry, who barks at the shadows of the leaves as they wave over the grass, or the sound of a pinecone hitting the ground, the chimes ringing, or just: “What’s that?” Aussie lifts her head, scans the yard, gives a snort (“What a dummy!”), and goes back to sleep. In our household it’s taken for granted that if we want to know about trespassers like Boris, the 500-pound bear who terrorized the neighborhood for a while, it’s Aussie we listen for, never the small Chihuahua.

Life can certainly strike us like a whip. A sudden illness, the death of somebody we love, the loss of a job, a road accident—those hurt. But I think that many people start and tremble, like Henry, at the shadow of the whip. Someone twisted an ankle and we’re: OMG, WHAT HAPPENED? We lose power in a storm, a tree limb crashed down on the ground, someone didn’t call when she was supposed to—RUFF! RUFF! RUFF! RUFF! RUFF! THE WORLD IS ENDING!

Even as covid has greatly abated, people part from me on the phone by saying: “Be safe.” How do I do that? Or else: “The world is so scary now.”

Scary how? Remember the Vietnam draft when your son, brother, or lover could be called up to fight in rice paddies half a world away? Do most of us have gangs running our cities and neighborhoods as they do in some countries, like Mateo’s town when he and his family had to leave practically overnight to run for their lives? Our cities may be a little scary, but that scary that we leave everything and rush for the hills? Are we on someone’s hit list? Even after certain areas get hit by deadly tornadoes and hurricanes, do we lose tens of thousands of lives and have to take care of hundreds of thousands left homeless?

Most of us take for granted basic government services, our roads are cleared of snow after storms, our electricity is restored, and we don’t generally have coup-d’etats. January 6 wasn’t even close.

Granted, all these work to varying degrees depending on who you are and where you live, not to mention things like availability of health insurance. There are certain ethnic groups and members of the LGBTQ community that don’t take those services for granted, not to mention low-income families and poor people who are at the other end of the income gap. At the same time, there’s a lot in our lifestyle that works remarkably well, that is envied by so many that they risk their lives coming here.

So why do so many people think that life is scary? I hear that word from many regardless of race, culture, or age.

Lately I’ve become allergic to any opinion or statement that starts with the words: What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen if Putin detonates a nuclear bomb? What’s going to happen with global warming? What’s going to happen with all the refugees? What’s going to happen if we get another summer’s drought?

My answer is: I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. I’m not sure anybody does, so why bother asking, unless it is to cause my blood pressure to go up and up? I’m convinced that what’s-going-to-happen questions are meant to scare the hell out of me and I ain’t knuckling under.

I’m fine with questions like: How can we achieve goals a, b, and c in global warming? I’m not fine with what’s-going-to-happen questions.

And since this is a post on allergies, here’s another: What if everybody did that! As in: What if everybody smokes pot? What if everybody changes pronouns? What if everybody decides to be a conscientious objector? What if everybody turned against Israel?

I can’t remember a single situation where everybody did the same thing, so I don’t worry.

I’m especially sensitive to the calculations and algorithms used by newspapers and social media to foment fear, insecurity, and indignation to make more money. Before I open up even a respected newspaper on the screen, I remind myself that their headlines will usually try to raise my blood pressure, cause me to scratch my eyes (a sign I’m getting anxious), make a dash to the kitchen for coffee or chocolate (ditto), and generally believe that never in the history of man- and womankind have our lives been in such danger.

They beg for me to get their mobile apps so that they could scare me everywhere, not just when I sit in front of my computer. Are you kidding? Get hourly updates about my credit score that hasn’t changed in about a decade?

Even the big warnings about thunderstorms later today don’t scare me (Monster storms! Earth Swallowed Car!). Instead, I say my goodbyes to the bearded irises we had this spring. They lasted longer than ever, but my guess is that 2 days of 90+-degree heat ending with strong winds and rain will finish them off. I don’t find that scary at all, just suggest to housemate she may wish to cut a few for her rooms before they go. Also, thank them for their service.

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