Today we have a scene from the fictional tale, Ms. Rapscott’s Girls, wherein Ms. Rapscott is taking the girls on an adventure at sea. They are riding on the backs of Seaskimmers–mythical creatures, a kind of cross between a seal and a dolphin. The girls’ individual personalities react to the situation in different ways:
They raced across the ocean like this, barely breaking the surface, for some time. At first Bea, Mildred, Fay, and Annabelle were terrified being out in the middle of the ocean, skimming along on the back of some animal they’d never even heard of.
Bea was the first to get the knack of riding one.
Fay, too, became more comfortable on her Seaskimmer. She was soon riding alongside Bea, expertly sliding up one side of the waves and down the other, confirming Ms. Rapscott’s theory that a sparkle in the eye truly is a sign of an adventurous spirit.
Annabelle rode behind Bea and Fay, her mouth wide open, her eyes big behind the goggles, her long black hair whipped in the wind. All matter of horrible scenes crowded her mind: sunburned to a crisp from the UV rays, stung by jellyfish, and most grisly–toppling off and being gobbled up by sharks. Worry took up every nook and cranny in her brain, which is how it is when you’ve been reading the Encyclopedia Britannica your whole life.Elise Primavera, Ms. Rapscott’s Girls, 146-147.
When I was a little kid (around five years old), my parents took us to visit Mom’s Cousins on Long Island. They had a boat. They took us out on the ocean. I was fearless. I loved it! I stood beside Uncle Al, enjoyed the bouncing, the crashing, the wind, and the salty spray.
We returned to Long Island several years later. Still a young kid, maybe eight? This time, I knew things. I knew about shipwrecks, and sharks, and drowning. What started out as a Pleasant Ride, filled with exhilarating memories–collapsed into a trembling, quavering Sitting on the Floor of the Boat, desperate for it all to be over.
More time passed. We went back–this time I may have been in Jr. High or High School. Embarrassed by my previous terror, I resolved to do my best not to be afraid and to try to enjoy the ride like my five-year-old self. It worked. I loved it. I want to go back right now.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. People experience crippling fear that no amount of work seems to relieve. I experience that kind of fear in certain categories (snakes), and I have compassion for anyone whose story is similar.
Unfortunately for us, the internet has amplified this dynamic. We Google our symptoms, self-diagnose, and tell our Dr. what we think is going on. She tries to allay our fears, gently explaining how we’ve got it wrong, and we wonder if we need to see someone else who better listens to “my research.”
The above quote brings out an interesting correlation between our knowledge and our fears. Poor Annabelle. Her parents have neglected her so she’s filled her days reading the Encyclopedia. Without parental guidance to help her calibrate and contextualize, all that knowledge makes her simultaneously precocious, pretentious, and extremely worried.
Though we usually won’t admit it, we’re tempted to think our Google Knowledge is on par with those we used to have an easier time trusting before the Information Highway arrived in our pockets. I’m afraid it’s often making us more anxious, not less.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad for the tools. I’m glad for WebMD, Wikipedia, and YouTube. I’m certainly not advocating for ignorance. But I think we have to use these things wisely so that we understand where we start and stop–why it still takes lawyers three years to go through Law School, why Doctors still have to go to Medical School (and Residency), why your professors have an equivalent amount of time invested becoming experts in their field. I’m also not advocating for blind trust in experts–they can be wrong. But on the whole, most are doing great work. Most planes fly. Most ships sail safely back to harbor. Most surgeries result in cures. Most medicines help our symptoms. Most swimmers don’t drown (or get eaten by sharks).
The exception to all of this is snakes. People who touch snakes die. Be afraid of snakes.