panic switch

If Only It Were That Easy!

I wrote commentary essays for The Philadelphia Inquirer for almost 10 years. It amazes me to reread my old stories and realize that many of them are timeless. In this case, the world’s woes have not changed – just morphed into bigger woes.

If you are a news junkie, you know what I mean. With the 24/7 news cycle on an endless number of television stations, fear thrives. I know this story sounds like it’s told by a “Debbie Downer,” but it is told partly as the true state of affairs – and partly tongue-in-cheek (the food part – we have to eat something!).

(A version of this story appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer in November 2002)

Easy to feel hamstrung by headlines these days
Violence in the Middle East. Carjackings. Local burglaries. Listeria. What can a news junkie do to get away from it all?

By Judy Harch

I think I need a time-out.

As an admitted news junkie, I may have overdosed lately. Fear has wrapped itself around me like a boa constrictor, threatening to suck the very breath of life out of me. Every trip out my front door now requires a few moments of thought. Do I really need to run this errand? I could be risking my life.

We got about five minutes of peace from the horrific sniper attacks before the news media began reporting stepped-up terrorist activity around the world. Americans have long since lost their belief that their homeland is safe from the daily battlegrounds of the Middle East. Terror now resides right outside the door in the form of chronic fear.

Recently, the media reported two carjackings in my area’s supermarket parking lots. Fortunately, the crimes ended with no physical injuries to the cars’ owners. But the venomous fear of what could have happened lingers long after. It forces questions into our minds, questions without simple answers.

After learning of those carjackings, I found myself worrying that I do not own an ATM card or carry credit cards in my wallet. I fear that I could anger a carjacker. What if he didn’t believe me? What if he thought I was holding out on him? Should I change my lifestyle just in case my car gets hijacked?

I had been living under the illusion that no one would want my grandma-looking Buick. That was until recently, when a friend reported that her jalopy of a van was stolen from a local shopping center. It was recovered in another town. Apparently the thief just wanted the van to transport himself to where he could “trade up.”

Fear has crept into my community. We are feeling the growing pains of rising crime. Burglars apparently think we are easy pickings. They’re not slipping into our homes in the dead of night. Brazen daytime break-ins are occurring. A few years ago, our neighbor’s home was broken into at 5 in the afternoon. She was terrified to think that one of her children was normally home at that time. But on that day, the house was unoccupied.

That incident was enough to drive many residents of my street to install burglar alarms in their homes. Even the term home invasion, which is used by the news media, strikes terror in my heart.

What to do? For many of us, comfort comes from food. Ha. There’s another can of worms. Fear begins early each morning. As I reach for that cup of coffee, I wonder how much damage I’m doing to my body as I supercharge it with a 12-ounce mug of caffeine. There’s always decaf. But I’ve heard the health reports. Experts aren’t so sure that the chemical process to strip away caffeine is entirely safe, either.

If I reach for the phone to commiserate with a friend on this sorry state of affairs, do I use cellular? There are studies about brain cancer from cell-phone use.

As my day winds down, the big decision about what’s for dinner awaits. Beef? Hmmm… mad cow disease. Chicken? Forget it. Don’t want to risk listeria. Well, there’s always vegetarian. Eggs? Don’t forget about salmonella. OK, how about good ol’ fresh vegetables? Oh, wait a minute. What about E. coli?

These days, I even gaze suspiciously at my glass of water. We draw our water from a well. Can’t help but wonder: Is a chemical cocktail invisibly swimming around in there?

Franklin Roosevelt said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Yeah, well, I wonder how he’d feel fighting the fear factor in the age of 24-hour news coverage.

UPDATE: There is a cure for this addiction – turn off the news! But I probably won’t do that…

scared lady watching TV

(Image of Relax-Panic Switch courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net)

(Photo of Scared Lady While Watching TV courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net)

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