Recently I was listening to a Fresh Air interview with actress Rachel Bloom, best known as the co-creator of the TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. When asked what kind of future she most hopes for her daughter, Bloom said, “I want her to feel as fulfilled as anyone can in the terror that is existence.”
That sentence stopped me in my tracks (literally, since I was running while listening to the podcast). Like most of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about terror. Maybe you have, too.
After all, there are plenty of reasons to be afraid lately. Take your pick:
Russian missile strikes in Ukraine
257 school shootings in the U.S. so far this year
The worst drought in Europe in at least 500 years
A stampede in South Korea kills more than 150 people
A suspension bridge collapse in India kills over 140 people
Terrorist explosions in Somalia
I could go on, but the point is clear: the world can be a scary place.
Clearly I need an island fix to restore my sanity. My Wi-Fi connection on Prince Edward Island is spotty if the wind is blowing and I don’t get newspapers delivered there. Sitting out on my deck, there’s little noise but the tractors forging their steady rows in the potato fields across the street and the wind blowing through the old chestnut tree. Within a few days, my shoulders relax. I might even forget to edit the manuscript on my lap because I’m just watching the clouds.
This October, we were on our way to PEI when Hurricane Fiona swept up there ahead of us, tearing up trees, collapsing barns, flooding roads, and leaving most of the island without power for over a week. We stayed put in Massachusetts, anxiously communicating with friends and neighbors on the island who kept us informed about the damage. Our house, luckily, was mostly spared, other than a broken window. A lot of trees were torn up by the roots but fell away from the house.
Even luckier is that we have found an island community where neighbors are always reaching out. One man, who has done a lot of carpentry and roofing work for us, hurried to put up a new metal roof before the hurricane hit. Another drove by and, noticing that a pile of roofing shingles was blowing all over the yard, called me and offered to pick them up and take them to the dump.
Then, a few days ago, a woman I met only recently emailed me to say, “I noticed that the corner of your barn has shingles and wood missing creating an entranceway. I’m not sure if hurricane Fiona created it but I had my drill and screws with me, so my partner and I grabbed a couple of pieces of plywood that were inside and we boarded it up. I hope you don’t mind.”
When Rachel Bloom was imagining her daughter’s future, she said she wanted her to be happy. To work hard and be fulfilled, “as fulfilled as anyone can in the terror that is existence.”
As someone who makes a living as a writer, I’d be the first to agree that working hard at projects that feed your soul is part of what it takes to be happy and fulfilled. But, to truly keep the terror of existence at bay, we need to know our neighbors, to reach out helping hands when we can and accept help when we can’t.
It’s easier to be part of a community on an island, of course, where there are so few people, and where the same families have grown up near their “home places” for generations. Most islanders make time to stop and chat. But it’s not impossible to do the same thing in the U.S. if we’re only willing to try.
Next time you see someone in your building or on the street, don’t just walk by. Stop and say hello. Every friendship begins with a conversation, and every conversation is the first step toward building a community that might just save your life one day, or will at least lessen the terror of existence.