Hugging the Porcupine

I’VE ALWAYS HAD A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE UNKNOWN.

I love that it fascinates me, inspires me, drives me. But I embrace it as you would hug a porcupine — very carefully and not without a huge dose of What the Fuck Was I Thinking.

I hate myself for feeling this way. Not only is it counterproductive to, you know, living, but it’s also what all of us experience every day, all the time. So get over it already.

“Unknown” is our default programming. It’s the factory setting for humanity. Yet we spend an inordinate amount of time planning in the false hope that we will then follow that plan. We crave order, but we live in a world ruled by entropy. Chaos is our king.

And still it bothers me. I “what if” myself like crazy, playing out a thousand multiverse scenarios for every stupid decision I make. It’s hard to just go with the flow when all you see is a raging tsunami coming to drown you in a wave of missed opportunities and regret.

The pandemic took these fears, these innate aversions to the unknown, and plopped them in our faces, on our couches, in our fresh baked sourdough, and on every one of our uncomfortable Zoom calls. Suddenly nothing was certain or would ever be again. We woke up to the true nature of existence. The pandemic re-booted our operating system so that now we would function normally, as in constantly scared shitless about the future normally.

What happened next? What did we do once the immediate threat was over, and we realized that pandemics were going to be with us for a long time, perhaps forever? How did we — a lot of us anyway — decide to live the rest of our lives?

We hugged the porcupine. We told fear to fuck right off. We embraced the unknown like a long-lost relative — not always comfortably, but hey you can’t choose your family. You just have to learn to live with them.

The Great Resignation is just one example of how people now not only accept the unknown but seek it out. We’ve responded to our new programming like thirsty man to a glass of water. After all, what is “risk” in a world where an invisible microbe can kill you without warning, where your right to live is no greater than another person’s “right” to be an asshole?

Life has always been short — nasty and brutish, too, if you ask Hobbes. But while our life expectancy hasn’t changed much in the last few years, what we expect from life has.

I thought I knew this after my brain tumor in 1993. I would tell myself that “life is short” so don’t waste a second doing something you don’t want to do.

I thought I realized it when my daughter left for college, promising myself to pay more attention from now on, telling myself that I’ll never get back all those years of parenting in absentia.

I discovered it again on New Year’s Eve 2020, struggling to breathe and wondering whether my final resting place would be a parking lot in Irvine. Laying there, listening to machines speaking to each other in melancholy rhythm, I expected more out of 54 years. I expected life to do better by me, and I was kinda pissed that it had let me down.

But not anymore. From now on, I own the unknown. I decide what I should expect from life, from my decisions — good, bad, or monumentally fucked up. And you should too.

As Glinda the Good Witch told Dorothy, “You always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” So go ahead, hug the porcupine — it may hurt, but at least you will know you’re still alive.

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