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Fortune’s wheel, Whedon logic, fear

September 19, 2008

The scary, horrifying, wonderful thing is that it could have been worse.

N and I have talked about this. Losing Teddy is the hardest thing that’s happened to either of us, and we feel like we’ve been through hell, like we’re not yet out of it. We hope desperately that we’ve now been through the hardest time of our lives. But we’ve agreed that it could have been worse.

Even before Teddy, I lived with this strange certainty that I was lucky, that life had blessed me beyond my deserving, that it could all fall apart at the drop of a hat (whose hat? I don’t know, but still). I grew up in a loving family, with a roof over my head and good clothes on my back, with a hard but not impossible childhood that included a good educational foundation. I was one of the lucky few in this world who get to go to college, and then I was able to attend graduate school, where I decided that I needed to make sure that whatever I did with my life, I needed to make sure that I was giving back somehow to the world that had blessed me so generously.

I wonder now if maybe I knew somehow that heartbreak was coming, that I was aware that I was riding the top of fortune’s wheel and was bracing myself for the next spin. Did I want to give back to the world in order to buy it off, get out of the price I felt would be exacted for my good life? I know it doesn’t work like that, or that if it does the world is stranger and more cracked than is tolerable. On the bottom of fortune’s wheel are those in this world who starve and who watch their families starve, who face the horrors of mass slaughter, whose lives are filled with despair and anger that I can barely even imagine. And for many, if not most of these people, the wheel never spins and things never get better.

One of the things I’ve lost, if I’m honest with myself, is my feeling that I am one of the universe’s favorite children, blessed and lucky, gifted and privileged. And now…now I can’t think of myself as lucky, overall, but I can’t think of myself as especially unlucky either, considering what’s going on in the world. For many people, things are worse.

And for most of us, for me, things could get worse. At any time. There’s a running joke in Buffy (and in almost everything Joss Whedon writes) where any time someone says anything to the effect of “At least it can’t get any worse,” things immediately become worse. Whedon didn’t invent this trick; it’s been done before. However, he does it pointedly, well, and with humor. A couple of years ago N and I began calling these moments moments of Whedon logic. We thought the running gag was funny.

It may still be funny, but now it’s personal. My precarious place on fortune’s wheel may be something I can laugh at, some day, in a whistling-in-the-dark kind of way, but it is also terrifying. Because it can get worse. It can always get worse. And when I think of my worst day, my worst night, of how horrifyingly bad losing Teddy was, I’m afraid of what that worse could be.

Will it fade, this fear, mellowing into a greater appreciation and gratitude for the sweet little nuggets of beauty and mundaneness in life? Or do I keep holding my breath, waiting for the next shoe to drop, for the bomb to go off, for my world to be lost again?

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