Even when you expect the worst, something worser may lie ahead . . .
Alfred Hitchcock was known to tell a certain little story that subsequently stuck (ouch!) in my mind. This is my recollected version of it:
Wilfred’s wife Muriel had been missing for some time and the incessant rain had abated when the search party finally found what might be a sign of her in a ditch beside the winding and desolate country road. At first, it did look like Muriel’s shoe, and Wilfred was distraught. He clutched at the shoe–which, it turned out, had a foot still in it.
“Oh, I hope nothing terrible has happened!” he cried, “Muriel never takes her favorite shoes off when she’s out of the house!”
A little farther along the lane there was a torn macintosh sleeve that, when he rushed to pick it up, had an arm in it showing Wilfred a hand with familiar jewelry. He was beside himself with worry.
“Gracious! Muriel hates to be late for anything, but she would at least pause to take off her mac when the rain stopped–it’s much too warm to wear in this fusty weather. Surely she would take a moment to get more comfortable.”
The search party progressed slowly, finding bits and pieces of what had surely once comprised most of Wilfred’s missing wife. Wilfred grew more and more frightened at what might have happened to his dear Muriel, but he dared not let himself think the worst. Finally they came to a weir where, caught in its grate, there was a familiar looking head. Wilfred leaned forward to address it:
“MU-riel! Are you all right?”
Funny, isn’t it, how we tend to assume the worst and still somehow be so surprised that things turn out to be as bleak as they are. The first of the month (any month) looms large as the archetype of a Bad Day for many people. It’s the day when most of the bills are due, accounting must be made at work for one’s actions–or inaction–during the previous thirty days, filters must be replaced in the machinery, timers reset, and all manner of drudgery and doom are assumed to lie in wait. “I can’t believe it’s already September! Where did August go?” The month begins with a day of dread.
But I’ve found too that there’s a palpable truth to the old idea that while pessimism feeds on its own energy and dark expectations tend to be fulfilled with dark results, optimism and positive expectations can be equally self-fulfilling. Of course it makes sense to be prepared for and know how to survive and rise above disaster. But doesn’t it make great sense to get beyond that and, if necessary, work and will good things into existence instead? If I’m going to spend energy on thinking about the future, I hope it will be with the belief and intent that the future should be filled with good stuff of every kind.
Alfred Hitchcock, it seems, may have been a slightly shady character himself; perhaps it fed his genius for black humor and suspenseful psychodrama, but the tension between his deep-dyed wit and the truly grim storyline with which he would present us was necessary both to leaven the tale and to remind audiences of a better possible outcome. Without the contrast of an occasional flash of light, darkness becomes meaningless and incomprehensible.
Never mind the Fear of the First. Begone, nagging soothsayers of the End Times. I’m not afraid of the cursed Ides of March. Superstition and despondency, get thee behind me.
I prefer to keep my moments of fright to those contained in good scary fiction, and dwell, myself, in a much sunnier place where I expect pleasure and prettiness and plush pillows and poached pears and perfection. At least when I curl up with the likes of Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King in that place I can be assured that they’re only tall tales I’m reading and the bogeys will all go away again when I turn on the lights and tell them to go. Then the terror is finite and fictional and even fun, but finally, it’s also conquered.
- Repeat after me: It’s only a story, it’s only a story . . .