Just In Case

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I’m reading J. R. Ward’s latest Black Dagger Brotherhood book, The Thief. There are those who gave up on the series after the end of the original Brothers’ stories. These people are fools. I’m loving me some Jessica Bird and no one can stop me. Except maybe my boss. He frowns on my reading at work. Go figure. 

Anyhoo, I’m enjoying the language, flow and emotion that fans have come to expect of a J.R. Ward work. Assail is going down into a drug withdrawal induced coma. Sola is hiding out in Miami. Jane and Vishous are at odds. Plus, there’s a new enemy in town. The action – both internal and external -- is nonstop.

Today, I’m thinking about contingency planning.  The world of ‘just in case’. For example, Sola is always armed, just in case. Vishous and Jane keep enough supplies on hand to stock an ambulance, just in case. My mother loaded up on cans of tuna fish and sardines, just in case. There’s a whole subculture of “preppers” who take the concept to new heights, just in case the zombie apocalypse arrives any time soon. 

Just in case dominates our society. We are enslaved to the idea of just in case. As I write this, my shoulder is screaming in pain, largely because I carry a mammoth purse filled to capacity with various supplies, just in case.  Because, you know, I might require something to eat or drink while walking from my car to my office. I might need to touch up my hair or makeup, treat a headache or a tummy issue – mine or a friend’s—warm cold fingers, moisturize chapped lips or dry hands. I might need to change out of heels, read a book if my Kindle dies (must always have something to read!), or deal with a run in my stockings.  The zombie apocalypse could arrive at any time – and of course it would require me to treat cuts or scrapes with only the help of my handbag. I’m ready. Just in case. Sure, rational minds might call it ridiculous. But I feel naked without my well-supplied bag. 

Those with small children get the prize for just in case. I had two at once, so I had doubles of everything; on many flights, it was unclear whether my baby bag would qualify as a legal carry on. Diapers, wipes, extra clothes, sweaters, hats, bottles, formula, snacks, napkins, tissues, the ever-present (horrifyingly) Aquafor (like slathering gasoline on my infants’ faces and bums—what was I thinking?!). You name it, I had it.  Like all of us in Mommyland. It’s probably worse now. I haven’t had small children in 15 years. Everything advances, and companies convince us we need this, that and the other thing, just in case. 

Just in case is a fear-based reflex: I’m afraid I won’t have something I need, so I gear up to the gills. Just in case. I’ve been convinced by advertising and experience that life can turn on a dime. I must be prepared. Not doing so can cause serious anxiety. I can’t let myself get too wrapped around the axle when I think about how ill prepared I am for North Korean nuclear weapons, aerosolized bubonic plague, the collapse of civil society, climate change driven hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes. 

On the other hand, I’m okay with not being prepared in case I need to defend myself from a tyrannical government with my cache of semi-automatic machine guns. I’m at peace with not being prepared for a home invasion. I’m probably not prepared for multiple snow days in a row, unless my family is good with canned tuna (some habits are hard to break). I probably don’t have enough toilet paper to survive the zombie apocalypse. Bad on me. 

I do enough to buy into the just in case culture. As my favorite music philosopher Marilyn Manson said (in Bowling for Columbine), “Keep them afraid and keep them buying.”  It’s all about consumerism these days. Maybe it always was. 

We buy insurance – in its many guises - just in case. From condoms to hand grenades, it’s all about the just in case. We’ve bought so much anti-bacterial shit we now have superbugs. We’ve protected ourselves from a perceived threat, cooties, and created an actual threat, superbugs. Interesting outcome, wouldn’t you say? Now we’re being told to eat dirt or die. We’ve come full circle from just in case to just in the opposite case. 

Just in case weighs us down in stuff – like my gargantuan bag –  as well as in debt, fear and anxiety. I’ve used this (probably apocryphal) example before, but I love the idea that the way Charles Lindbergh was able to cross the Atlantic successfully was because he didn’t weigh himself down with extra fuel. He eschewed the just in case. He said fuck it to running out of gas and in so doing, made it all the way across because there was no just in case. It’s a lesson for all of us. 

Just in case can be perceived as laudatory caution and an appropriate expression of adulting. But it’s also a buzzkill and a squelcher of spontaneity. It obliterates the unbearable lightness of being because we are no longer light. We are elephants trying to dance daintily on our little patches of space. No can do. We’re thumping around, leaving subsidence craters in our wakes. 

Lugging around the weight of the world, fearful we won’t have what we need makes us too heavy. We’re afraid Murphy’s Law will come to stay, and we won’t be prepared. I call bullshit. 

She who travels lightest travels farthest. Just in case might, maybe help us live longer, but will it help us live better? I’ve always said I have no interest in surviving the zombie apocalypse. It sounds seriously un-fun. I’ll take a pass. I can probably also let go of the hair and makeup implements I carry, just in case Brad Pitt asks me for drinks after work (just kidding, honey, now that my beloved David Cassidy is gone, I have no more celebrity crushes). 

As we look at what we carry with us, just in case, is there a way to lighten the load, and risk that we won’t have a band aid or an aspirin when we need one? What if we had to improvise in an emergency? Or do without?  Are the consequences so dire that they justify all this obsessive preparation? I’m thinking not.

We can cultivate resourcefulness and resilience by not preparing for every single eventuality. We can become lighter beings and experience unbearable joy. We can live more in the moment instead of the wreckage of our futures. We can live in faith that it will be all right, or in the fear that it won’t. Maybe I can even throw away the tuna fish. Maybe, I can leave the paperback at home when I’ve got the Kindle. But, let’s not go crazy. I need the words and the wisdom of J.R. Ward and the rest of my beloved authors to get through my day. The paperback stays.