What Are You Afraid Of?
I recently realized that the most important issues facing us today are not racial tension, war in Europe, inflation, abortion, insurrection. They are important, sure. But none of these things threatens to kill us tomorrow.
Here’s what can kill us tomorrow. Here’s what we should be afraid of:
Gun violence. There are some 30,000 shooting deaths in America per year — and the number is rising. More than half are suicides. I’m not suicidal, and I hope you aren’t either. I don’t own a gun. Also, I’m not African American. And for a host of reasons African Americans are eight times more likely to be killed by firearms than white people. Still, many of us occasionally venture onto a high-school or college campus for our senior learning courses, or we go to the mall or a concert or sporting event. We could be a target, no matter who we are or where we live.
Falling. Some 32,000 Americans die every year from falls. And guess which age group suffers the most? One out of four seniors falls every year — in the shower, on the stairs, in the dark. Not every fall results in an injury, but the Center for Disease Control says about 3 million older Americans show up in an emergency room because of a fall. I try to be super careful in the bathroom, with its slippery tiles. I always hold onto the bannister when I take the stairs. And I have a running battle with my wife about the throw rugs. She thinks they’re pretty; I think they’re dangerous.
Drug addiction. When we were in Michigan last month, where recreational cannabis is legal, we succumbed to curiosity and bought some marijuana. We got packages of little beads, which you can put in a drink or eat right out of the pack. After we got home, we tried it. Didn’t do much for me or my wife. But it does do something for some people. Not to mention the pain medications that people take after a surgical procedure or to treat chronic pain. I don’t think I’m going to die of a drug overdose. But opioids are seductive. Probably very few of the 70,000 Americans who died of drug abuse last year ever thought they’d be a victim either.
Global warming. Is this really going to kill us tomorrow? Well, my wife and I are planning to spend two weeks in September on the coast of South Carolina. At the height of the hurricane season. These days the storms are fiercer, just like the fires are hotter and the floods are higher. Add to that the possibility that as temperatures increase and icecaps melt, more and more deadly bugs and bacteria will be unleashed on humankind (covid, monkeypox, polio, more to come). I don’t think global warming will kill me — otherwise, why would I be going to South Carolina? — but it might kill my grandchildren.
Nuclear Armageddon. Maybe I’m a bit to quick to dismiss that war in Europe. The Russians are holed up at a nuclear power plant. The Ukrainians are shelling the Russians. Could there be an unintended but catastrophic hit? Or, if the Russians start losing, could they turn to a “tactical’ nuclear option? Then there are the nuclear dangers from India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Israel and Islamist terrorists.
Traffic accident. I just saw a report in our local newspaper. U. S. traffic fatalities, after declining for years, began to climb two years ago. The trend is continuing in 2022. Roadway deaths were up 7% for the first three months of this year — almost 10,000 people died, the highest count in over two decades. The government blames the increase on “speeding, impaired driving, and other reckless behavior.” National Highway Safety Administrator Steven Cliff, saying now is the time to double down on traffic safety, announced a national impaired driving enforcement program for the weeks surrounding the Labor Day holiday.
Ourselves. I know I’m supposed to eat right. But does that stop me from reaching for the sugary snack? I know I’m supposed to exercise, but does that stop me from saying to myself, “Oh, I’ll do it later.” Or, I’m supposed to read a book or do a puzzle or ramp up my social life. All these things help us live longer and healthier lives. But instead I flop on the couch, turn on Netflix, and watch a stupid crime show that does nothing but lull me to sleep.
We can urge politicians to address global warming and the nuclear threat. And they should. We can urge drivers to slow down on the highway. And they should. But sometimes we are our own worst enemy.