Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Perceived danger

My mom just told me about a truly incredible moment that happened while she was in the tropics a couple weeks ago. Now, when I want to rest and recharge, I head for the Appalachians, which are relatively close, fortunately. My mom, on the other hand, wants to get out of them and head someplace with sand, water, sun, and preferably lots of tropical fruits which can go into smoothies for her. (I loathe sunburn, but she's lucky enough to pretty much never burn.) Anyway, she and Dad were somewhere in the tropics snorkelling about, when they rounded a bit of coral to see a large nurse shark basking about 10 feet ahead of them and 20 feet below. Now, nurse sharks are pretty much the opposite of aggressive - they like to bask in the sun, eat small creatures from the bottom, and not be much of a bother to anybody else. But, as Mom said, that's not the first thing that occurs to you when you see a large shark only 20 feet away without any plexiglass involved. So she and Dad backed away slowly and headed for more populated areas (nurse sharks are very shy and move away from areas with lots of activity, typically.) Contrary to usual practice, neither got a picture of the shark.

And I thought about the perceived danger - yikes, that's a big shark! versus the actual threat from a shark that typically prefers sun and some shrimp cocktail to exertion. Now, I'm not saying they didn't do the right thing. Nurse sharks like to be left alone, and humans typically prefer not to come to the notice of sharks. Humans avoid the shark, shark continues basking and eating shrimp. Problem solved. (Well, except for the shrimp...)

But we are constantly being told that we are surrounded on all sides by danger. My family was initially terrified when I told them that I was taking the subway every day to work. Don't people constantly get mugged on the subway? Well, actually, DC has one of the cleanest rail systems with a pretty low crime rate (though some pickpockets, as I learned to my cost a few years ago). On the other side, some of the city folks I've come to know have _Deliverance_ or something similar in their minds when they think of Appalachia. When I said to one that for the cost of a downpayment on a condo here, I could have a cabin with 3 approved septic fields on 10 acres of good forestland back home, she was horrified. To her, a cabin meant no water or electricity. When I pointed out that many folks get their water directly from springs and the septic fields were explicitly for waste and wastewater so they don't contaminate the groundwater, she was somewhat relieved. I didn't point out that you don't need that much electricity, and can provide pretty much all of it through a personal windmill and solar setup for a few thousand, and even sell some back to the utility company.

When I think of how much people are encouraged to fear each other, I think of the experiences I've had in both the country and city. As a country girl, I know the backwoods enough not to fear it, and in fact enough to love it. After marrying a city boy, I came to the Big City and learned that it wasn't as scary as I'd grown up believing. And I even live in a neighborhood that frightens some city folk - my neighborhood is in a majority-black county, and my neighborhood is one with a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. I love it here, too. I can get off the train, walk to the Salvadoran grocery down the block, and talk with the woman who runs it while she rings up my groceries, walk a little further and listen to the Mexican pop playing from the parking lot of the next apartment complex down, as guys gather there to talk after work, then in the parking lot of my building, there might be Egyptian pop playing in the parking lot and Jamaican reggae playing inside the party room. Along the way, I'll see plenty of people I've known for years here, and we may stop and talk or just wave to each other as we head our separate ways.

Somehow, I think that perhaps it's time we all look at these perceived dangers that beset us, and recognize that if we don't stomp on the nurse shark, he might not want to bite us.


Blogger Lorcan said...


6/17/2006 7:55 PM  

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