19 October 2015

That sinking feeling

My family has adopted the habit of prefacing non-emergency phone calls made out of the blue with comments along the lines of 'There's nothing to worry about...'. Often, however, such reassurance is followed by a 'but', which roughly translates as 'Something bad has happened, but we're all still alive.' 

On a day off a few weeks ago, I received a mid-morning call at home from my parents' number. A surge of adrenaline immediately set my heart racing and Dad's opening words didn't help: 'There's no problem now, but...'

He went on to explain that he'd had to call an ambulance at 4am, after my mum woke up with severe and unexplained back pain. The paramedic could find no serious underlying cause and the pain had, in fact, subsequently eased. A follow-up visit to their GP confirmed that this had been a muscular problem. Sighs of relief all round.

Late afternoon on the same day, I received a text from my boyfriend, Pete, which began 'Don't panic, but...' As he's a keen cyclist, this introduction usually means he's had a crash. This time, though, the 'crash' had been in his back garden; he'd tripped and fallen face first onto the concrete path, breaking two front teeth and suffering nasty grazes. By the time he contacted me, he'd already been to the dentist for emergency repairs.

Dad and Pete both did the right thing in only telling me what had happened once the initial crisis was over. There was, after all, nothing I could do to assist in either situation and I'd just have spent hours helplessly worrying.
Image courtesy of Mister GC/

Receiving two calls of this kind in one day unsettled me, though. They reminded me that, as I potter about my mundane, day-to-day business, something terrible might be happening to my nearest and dearest. At any moment, a genuinely bad news bomb might explode into my life and change it forever.

I know full well that dwelling on what ifs is pointless and saps the joy from existence, however, pushing such thoughts away is a struggle for those of us of an anxious disposition. 

Actually, I sometimes wonder how anybody manages not to worry - as it says in the theme song* of the television show Monk (about a police detective with OCD), 'People say I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time. If you paid attention, you'd be worried, too.' The reality is, life is busy priming bad news bombs for all of us.

Sinkholes are the epitome of this. Earlier this month, a hole more than 30ft deep opened up in a road in St Albans, which is about 20 miles north of where I live. The 60ft wide crater also swallowed part of a drive and front garden, but luckily nobody was injured.

To me, this incident is a metaphor for life: a succession of 'sinkholes' that we can't anticipate - it's best just to make the most of the firm ground while you still have it beneath your feet!

*It's a jungle out there by Randy Newman - you can view the opening credits to Monk, including this very catchy song, here.

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