SAFE Is A Four-Letter Word By Right Thinking Girl
This week has been a particularly up and down week for me, ending on a note of despair so deep I didn’t think I’d ever recover. As I moped to my living room sofa and collapsed like a sack of sugar, I shut my eyes and wearily thought: this is such a 9/11 day.
And then a bolt of truth hit me like a bolt out of the divine blue. It is a bolt of truth that has galvanized me, and energized me and changed my whole way of thinking. Maybe it will be as true for you. It has two parts, and they are these:
1. We are too damn safe, and too damn weak.
2. It is time to start thinking in new metaphors.
Democrats and Republicans alike have obsessed themselves with the primacy of Safety since 9/11. On a global scale (war in Iraq) on a local scale (Ground Zero and the battles of the International Freedom Center) and on a micro scale (my own little problems with keeping myself emotionally secure.) Safety is a wonderful thing, no doubt about it. I wouldn’t want to fathom a world without child safety restraints, anti-lock brakes, and salad bar sneeze guards. But I think it’s got to the point where our concern for safety has trumped every other concern. Instead of Washington D.C. being a place that surges with new ideas about how to serve the people of the United States, it’s a stagnant mass of bureaucrats terrified of doing anything at all lest their constituents rise up in protest and fire them on the spot. New York, oh beloved New York, it hurts to look at her because she’s been cowed. She’s New F’ing York City, for Chrissakes and in the four years since 9/11, it’s turned into Milwaukee with sky scrapers. The architecture has become blah (have you seen the new Trump buildings? Have you? In what world are they at all cutting edge, fresh, or even attractive? Is there any standard in which they would be perceived as interesting?) The food is blah (sushi is the new sushi). Clothing is polite, functional and ultimately disinterested. Art is… don’t even get me started on the art. There is no dangerous art in America right now. There is nothing that is pushing our understanding of the human spirit or experience – in general the only art that gets any publicity at all is fear-based, anti-war crap that is heavy on cliché and light on skill. That is not art, it a New York Times opinion piece.
The murder raid of 9/11 quite literally knocked a certain kind of America right off the map: the free-spirited America, unconscious of itself as a teenage girl, that believed in itself without question, that was mercifully untroubled with words like “Gitmo”, “Pancake”, and “Padilla.”
I miss those days with a pain as true as watching a lover walk out the door. Mostly, I miss myself the way I used to be back then. In the years since 9/11 I’ve crystallized a little. I’ve become a little less alive. In those first days, I mistook the general malaise for grief. Then I realized that my sadness had become a habit, a subtle one like a tic or a nervous cough. Terrorism, war, dirty bombs, hurricanes and the Hitler Network have created an aura of terror (literal terror; I concede 9/11 worked!) that makes it hard to reach beyond the chaos and grab life by its throat.
Here’s a radical idea. Let’s start living a little again, quit seeking safety as the central tentpole of our lives. I say, let us recapture the spirit of innovation, danger, and excitement again. Let us take risks in our businesses, in our relationships with other people, our travel plans, architecture, technology.
Instead of living under the constant shadow of fear, maybe as a people we could look around for frightening new opportunities before the government and our own instincts rush to baby-proof them. Let us embrace the risks that are still there for us to take. Our lives have an expiration date, and hiding in our apartments and looking out with wide, wary eyes is not how we want to live. Instead of living a fear-based life, build some really crazy architecture (even if nobody else gets it, even if environmentalists worry that you’re trampling on the green-eared rabbit’s natural habitat, even if every single person who looks at it frowns and says, “That’s just weird.”). Go skydiving (despite the slight increase in insurance premiums). Take a vacation (yes, you do have to use some of your savings and no, you won’t be homeless.) Start your own business (no, I can’t tell you it’ll be successful). Stop being in relationships with men you don’t love because you’re afraid nobody else will come along (he will).
Life is about risk and change; without those two elements we are de facto stuck in amber, preserved, it’s true, but also without any real experiences that make us all shockingly, vibrantly alive. Instead of sacrificing ourselves to politics and fear, let’s start living like people again instead of like terrified rats trapped by our hysteria of the unknown. Let’s start taking some risks and wiggling out of these lives that are pinching, cramping, suffocating us with safety.
I will go first.
I’m going to start having expectations again. Expectations that I will awaken to a world that is wonderful, secure, and full of exciting possibilities. I’m going to believe that I will always have what I work for. I’m going to run after dark, talk to strangers, set my price point higher than my competitors, wear color instead of black, and live a little. I am tired of safety. I’m so safe that nothing is happening to me anymore. I’m so safe that it’s becoming dangerous not to my quality of life but to my very soul which needs stimulation and discomfort in order to grow. I once said on my blog that I am the baddest muthafcker to ever walk the earth. I think I should start acting like it again. And so should you.
So join me, won’t you, in a new movement to allow danger and risk into our lives. Start right now. Take a risk on something: show the world you have something worth risking – your life, which is precious. Your life is far too precious to be kept safe and locked away like diamonds in a violin case and stashed in a bank vault.
Your life deserves to get dirty. It deserves to be lived.