On Being Vulnerable

Posted on December 26, 2008

As my childhood fades into a pleasant memory, people often ask me what I miss most about it. Summer vacations, Pokemon Cards, and Mr. Softee are high on that list, but give me a moment to speak, and I’ll go on and on about what I really miss – being invincible.

Yes, I realize it was an a completely unfounded assumption. According to UNICEF, more than 25,000 children die every day, and almost 800,000 go missing in the United States alone, many never to return. But what are statistics to the blessed obliviousness of a child? “It can never happen to me”, we reasoned, each calamity-free day serving as testament to our unshakable truth. Of course, that naivete sometimes led us to do incredibly stupid things, but every night I went to bed, I was 150 percent sure I’d get up in the morning. And then the next, and the one after that, ad nauseam.

In some respects, growing up has been like being the protagonist of a Lovecraft novel. Much of my adolescent and adult life can be summarized by a near addict-like compulsion to learn more about this world. This has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, it strengthens me as an artist; pushing me just a little closer to living up to the name homo sapien. At the same time, acquiring such knowledge is not without consequence; as I browse through each blog, book, or Wikipedia entry, I’ve watched that old illusion (on which I based a perfectly happy childhood), completely disappear.

So far, I’ve avoided the madness that marks the climax of such tales. But at what cost? My life, previously governed by the question of “Why”, has been transformed into an existence of “what-if’s”. What if my car skids into a tree faster than Mike Mussina’s fastball? What if I walk down this dark street? What if my employer goes bankrupt? Well, one of those has come to pass, so I’m not entirely a worrywart. But it’s interesting to think about how much of adulthood is based on the premise that something wicked lurks around every corner. Is this what it means to be responsible? Thinking about the ways every decision could kill me has helped me to avoid a pitfall or two, but more often than not, it has served as an excuse not assume any risk – even ones with a potentially great payoff. If I had been thinking less about paying the bills and more about following my dreams, for example, I might have done something more fulfilling than financial software development.

And so I gaze upon today’s children with a nostalgic wonder. As they throw themselves into each new adventure and unopened door with a gusto that seems thoughtless to one of many summers, part of me smiles. The other part wants to shake them and yell “Dangit, don’t you know you could die?!”

» Filed Under Everything and Nothing

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