I’ve always had anxiety. Ever since I was a tyke, I worried about things that no kid should worry about: the rent, the fate of mankind, the Yankee bullpen. It didn’t matter, I always worried about it. I had an overactive mind and no way to control it. I got it from my mother. She was a worry-wort. She worried about everything too; even things that had no bearing on her life. She was on her deathbed, 48 hours away from passing on to the other side, unable to speak due to the fact that she was intubated; suddenly her eyes opened wide as if she was having some sort of revelation. She reached for the pad and pen, as my brother and I tried to discern what was wrong.
“I forgot to pay the electric bill”, she wrote in a shaky hand.
“Don’t worry ma, the mice can see in the dark.”
My dad was the opposite. I don’t think he ever had anxiety in his life. If he did, he never let it show. He took each day one at a time.
My mother said he had a clear head.
It wasn’t meant as a compliment.
I would call up the old man in a panic, worried about the job, worried about the girl, worried about the Giants’ defense, and he would always say the same thing:
“Jimmy, we’ll figure it out.”
And the truth is, you do always figure it out. Whatever the problem is, we figure it out. We don’t always get the outcome we want, but in the end, we figure it out.
But that doesn’t stop me from worrying.
And it’s not like once you solve a problem, the anxiety goes away. No, not at all. As soon as one problem is solved, a new one replaces it.
A few years ago, I started to do some research on anxiety, and I learned that the root of all anxiety is the knowledge that some day we are going to die.
We are the only creature that knows from an early age that our time is limited, and that knowledge creates a fear deep in our psyche. Some people are able to rise above it, and then there’s people like me. We live with anxiety on a daily basis, and as a result, seek to find some form of control to combat it.
That’s where the OCD kicks in. All long as I can control the world around me, I can keep the anxiety from swallowing me. This is why people are hoarding toilet paper, it gives them a sense of control.
And then along comes the coronavirus… Covid-19
Nothing like a worldwide pandemic to set your anxieties ablaze.
Each day, as the news comes cascading down like a tsunami on a beach town, I am forced to take in all the information, take in all the numbers, take in all the news stories, and then try and make sense of them.
I know what you’re saying, why not just turn off the news, turn off social media, stop reading medical papers from the Imperial College of London, but it doesn’t work like that. You can’t just ignore what’s going on in the world. That would be a loss of control.
I’ve tried meditating to help relieve the anxiety, but it really hasn’t helped. Some days, it makes it worse. I tried to start my day by meditating, but that was a huge failure, I would sit there, in my cramped lotus position, thinking about all the things I needed to do that day, and within minutes, I’d give up, and head downstairs to clean the cat box.
I moved my mediation time to 11am, after the morning chores were done, but before I headed to the gym or the park for exercise. I managed to build up to about 17 minutes, but one day, I tried mediating as a way to calm my anger after some perceived injustice, but all I did was sit there seething, fermenting in my own indignation. Ever since then, the best I can do is six minutes of angry breathing.
It all came to a head last night at dinner. We were discussing with the boys about who can go where, and who can see who, and when we can go back to our normal lives, and right then and there, I had a revelation:
We’re all going to die.
There is no cure. They have no plan. All this social distancing is just a panacea to keep us from killing each other in a grotesque manner. In 18 months, the human race will be gone.
And then after I left for work, I had another thought:
What if, this wasn’t a plague, but a blessing.
What if this wasn’t the end of mankind, but the start of something new; a real freedom.
What if we weren’t being visited by the Angel of Death,
but the Angel of Mercy.
What if God, whomever that might be, finally said, “Ok, time’s up. Let them go.” And the virus was just the easiest, least painful way of relieving us of the burdens of living:
The hell of poverty.
The hell of chronic pain
The hell of loneliness.
The burden of human frailty.
What if this wasn’t the worst tragedy of modern times, but the slow ending of a very long play.
How beautiful would that be?
What if, rather than crying about the innocents, and all the “good” people who are plucked from our lives, death was a blessing beyond our imagination, and now, in 2020, the time of reckoning has come, and all the chosen leave this earth after a two week sickness; our mortal bodies breaking down to allow our sprits to escape.
What if all the good people are being taken away, and all the scumbags are being left behind?
Then the anxiety kicked in again.
Would I make the list?
Have a lived a good life? Am I worthy?
If the key to heaven is fealty to an unseen god, obviously, I’m not gonna make it, but what if it were truly a matter of how much good you’ve done weighed against how much pain you’ve caused?
What if it’s all just a baseball score?
Have I done enough to get in?
Panic sets into my anxiety-ridden brain. All I can think of, as I speed along an empty FDR drive at 7:20 pm, are the faces of the people I’ve let down, disappointed, or outright caused pain and heartache. I can’t think of anything good I’ve done, although that can’t possibly be true.
I’ve had to do something right.
I try and calm myself using the breathing techniques that I’ve learned from the various mediation gurus on Youtube. I manage to slow my heart rate down to about 135BPM as I cross the GW bridge. I try and tally up the score. I try to imagine the people that I may have helped along the way, but all I can see is a long string of women in tears, screaming
“I hate you, you selfish bastard.”
I chase away those images, and focus on my friends and family. I try and think about all the times I donated blood and gave $20 to charity. And then it hits me:
I’m dead even. For every person I’ve helped, there’s one that I hurt.
I’m batting 500.
I’m not gonna make it in.
I’ve got to get a few more checks on the right side of the ledger. I don’t have much time left. Neither do you.
Who can we help? Where do we start?