The scene: A dark, too quiet night in the bowels of some remote location.
The character: A beautiful but foolish all-American young person.
The plot: S/he has come to a remote location with a group of friends to let off steam and maybe even get lucky, when suddenly (but only after receiving numerous warnings from the Internet, their travel agent, a grizzled but sage groundskeeper, and the groundskeeper’s faithful cocker spaniel), they are separated. Each is now in a severe state of duress as they search for one another in all of the most logical places which naturally include the basement, abandoned boat house, topiary maze, and tool shed full of rusty but still sharp implements of construction or death.
The viewers: We tend to fall into one of three categories:
- Immersed: typically found clutching the nearest pliable object – even if it is another person’s unsuspecting quadricep – and intoning futile bits of wisdom to the character (such as “Don’t go in there!”).
- Amused: on the edge of their seats, gleefully egging the characters on to their gruesome but well earned doom.
- Over It: Firmly grounded in the knowledge that this scenario could never happen and ridiculing every move the characters make.
Regardless of category, don’t we all say the same thing in these moments? Something along the lines of, “Who in their right mind would ever really do that?” We are so sophisticated as observers of the journey that we lose respect or even sympathy for the characters. They made a series of obviously poor choices to get themselves into such peril. When it comes down to it, don’t they deserve what they get?
Honestly, I hope the real life answer is no, because I am here to confess that I make a lot of boneheaded moves when I am in the grip of fear. Okay, it’s typically not as extreme as your average Friday the 13th gore fest, but movies are just exaggerated versions of our own stories, right? I’ll even take it a step further: Not only do I often respond foolishly to my fears and foils, but sometimes I make the same mistakes more than once. Picture that in Saw XXVII or whatever we’re up to now; the audience would be throwing real live tomatoes at that character!
Here, in ascending order, are some of the things that go bump in the nights of my soul and the stupid responses I make:
5. Scorpions – No really. I can’t even look at them. They’re so…crunchy-looking and lethal. They are the embodiment of evil to me. Gross.
Healthy response: Study them, learn about them, realize that I live hundreds of miles from their nearest ideal climate, so they pose no true threat to me.
My response: Cringe and gag and refuse to approach their tiny exhibit at the zoo such that even eight-year-old strangers are mocking my revulsion (my own offspring have separated themselves from all association with me).
4. Fatal illnesses, the more obscure, the scarier – It’s called hypochondria, and it’s a real thing, okay? Mine is a mild form, but people still seem to find it comical to listen to me when I or one of my girls get sick.
Healthy response: Stay calm, observe or at most chart their symptoms so I will have data to share with the pediatrician should it become worse.
My response: Ask them a dozen animated questions about everything from how they feel to how long that hangnail has been there, then hit the Internet for medical info and affirmation only to find – surprise! – a bevy of horror stories and endless possible diagnoses, scouring through them until I am finally certain that we all have either this year’s cold virus or Scarlet Fever or terminal cancer.
3. Bad news – It doesn’t matter what kind: financial, political, death in the family… They all bear the same weight on my scale of frightful forces.
Healthy response: Take a deep breath and face it by gathering all of the facts, then formulating the best strategy for getting through whatever it is.
My response: Avoid, evade, and elude. Maybe if I remain ignorant of it, it won’t be real. Of course, that’s the equivalent of hiding under something and trying to disappear, thereby only making myself an unmoving target for the monster on the loose, but try telling me that when there’s an unexpected knock at the door.
2. Irrelevance, obscurity, basically having no impact on the world or my piece of it – In the epic words of Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings, I fear “a cage…To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire” (J.R.R. Tolkien).
Healthy response: Move, act, risk, follow my dreams wherever they lead me, tell a better story with my life and pursuits.
My response: Fret about it in my journal, then divert myself via Facebook, TV, or movies…basically other people’s stories.
1. Being disposable – My dad left me when I was a small child for another family, my husband left me when our children were small for another woman. It’s easy to infer a pattern, common denominator, or root cause there.
Healthy response: Spend time daily with God being affirmed and reminded of His love, promises, and sacrifices for me. When I am bathed in the Word, I could never believe anything but that God made me completely unique to fill an irreplaceable role in His heart.
My response: Get distracted by busyness and performing, which lead to comparison, which leads to judgment of myself and/or others, which leads to depression and believing that my worst fear is true. So basically, I walk haphazardly into the dark, foreboding room and right into the arms of the killer.
I’m getting better, I hope. Self-awareness is a vital first step, and I have a great family wonderful friends to help me and hold me accountable and keep me out of the basement…when I don’t go wandering off alone, of course.