Safe, but not secure
June 6, 2014
By Pat Detmer
My sisters and I are a cautious lot. My mother was a careful, self-reliant German Midwesterner, and my father — German as well — was an insurance adjustor, cleaning up after accidents, tornadoes and fires. We heard all of the horrific possibilities that life could serve up while we were at the dinner table.
My mother’s caution and my father’s profession sucked the fun out of stuff that my friends did without a second thought. Dangerous carnival rides? No. Trampolines? No. Boat trips without life jackets? No. In fact it wasn’t sufficient for us to simply wear a life jacket on a boat; the entire family was lifeguard-certified, so we had to figure out a way to save everyone else on board as well.
When we moved to a new home, we had a fire drill to explore routes out of the house. In an overcrowded place, we were taught to be aware of escape routes if the crowd began to press, and if there were disasters caused by mob panic in the news, we talked about ways that we might have escaped injury had we been there.
Everything was a threat, whether we were likely to encounter them in Farm Town, Illinois, or not: Buzzing insects, quicksand, slips and falls, dog bites, men following us to our cars, strangers at the door, fire, poisonous snakes. Had there been a handy delusional safety bubble nearby, I don’t doubt that all three Detmer sisters would have happily crawled into it and assumed the fetal position.
But here’s what I’ve come to know: Even if you’re as careful as our parents taught us to be, stuff still happens. Do I ever feel perfectly safe? No, I don’t. But that’s all right, because here’s the flip side: I’m pleased when I take a drive on the freeway and no one chooses to take a hard right turn into my car. I’m happy that I don’t choke on something that I’m eating or drinking, and that the people who hand out pamphlets in my neighborhood don’t try to rob me.
When I walk to my car in the dark, I’m ecstatic that the man walking nearby doesn’t lunge for me, and I’m relieved that when I open my garage doors, a carjacker doesn’t run in. When I turn on the gas stove, I’m tickled that it doesn’t explode, and when I’m home alone and can get out of the tub without falling, cracking my head and drowning, I’m filled with joy.
So the largest measurable result of all our inbred vigilance is that it gives me an extremely low threshold for happiness: Merely surviving is enough to make me euphoric on a daily basis. And if not for the possibility of dislocating my shoulder, I would pat myself on the back.
You can reach Pat Detmer — who has a sudden hankering to put a trampoline in the backyard — at firstname.lastname@example.org.