I admit that I gulped a bit when, last week, right after I purchased a set of Oyster Cards to use on the London transit system, a terrorist-inspired bomb went off in one of the city’s train stations. And recent reports of a sharp rise in acid-splashing attacks in the city, sometimes aimed at tourists, gave me pause as well. But only for a few minutes, because, dammit, I’m not cancelling our long-awaited trip to London just because there’s the possibility of being caught up in some sort of mayhem. Chances are, I have a greater chance of injury or death travelling into nearby New York City, which I do often enough; and I managed to live there, and work there for years without being killed or maimed. I even worked and commuted through the old World Trade Center, but well before 9/11, which must be a case of being in the wrong place at the right time. As the expression goes, we can’t live in fear. Or as good old FDR said, the only thing we need to fear is fear itself. True enough; pure fear is a pretty awful thing to deal with.
During most of my first year as a New Yorker—first as a Brooklynite and then later an upper-Manhattanite—I was absolutely petrified. I was twenty-two, single, just out of a cozy upstate college, and living alone, working as a low-tier editorial drone at a famous magazine, and just so terrified of everyone and everything I would simply work, go home (white-knuckling it on the subway) to my tiny 4th-floor walkup in Greenpoint, lock the door, drag some furniture in front of it, and go to bed. It was a miserable existence and I knew it. But that was the apartment that had the fabulous glittery-night view of Manhattan from the back window, and it was that view that eventually roused me, shamed me into overcoming my fear of the city, and finally exploring some of it, gradually making friends and eventually, meeting the man I would marry (who was living on the Upper East Side). I never completely, absolutely vanquished that fear because just when you did, something bad would happen—your purse would get snatched or your apartment building set on fire—but I did manage to shrink it down to manageable proportions. I learned to be prudent, and not take unnecessary risks and chances–or at least be prepared to accept the consequences if I did. And most importantly, you eventually learn how to deal with the bad stuff when it does happen: Not to freak out and retract back into one’s shell like a frightened periwinkle, but to stay calm…and carry on. It’s become a dopey cliché, printed on any number of T-shirts and coffee mugs against the Union Jack, but it really is good advice for any locality, because anything can happen anywhere. Keep on keeping on.
And my dear Father Irenaeus, he would say, “Just do your best…let God do the rest.”
It’s what helps me deal with having my (seemingly fearless) only child living twelve hours away in Nashville, and my elderly parents who seem perpetually in some hurricane’s path these days down on the Florida Gulf coast. And it will help me when I do travel to London next month, with the fellow I met in scary Manhattan so long ago. If nothing else, I’ll be in the company of a people long accustomed to keeping calm and carrying on as usual.