¡hola papi!

‘I’m Terrified at the State of the World’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

¡Hola, Papi!

I feel really, really scared about everything happening in the world. Like, “lose sleep about it” scared, “researching how to move to Canada” scared. Mainly, I’m scared of things that happen politically and the way that things are moving. I feel dread about climate change and things that aren’t happening to fix it.

As a public-school teacher, I feel afraid of my colleagues and of the people whose comments I read on Facebook about teachers being “groomers” and worse. I teach in a rural red district and I have a second job in a church.

I don’t know how to reckon with worrying about my sexuality again and how it now relates to how I’m perceived in my job and beyond. It scares the hell out of me! How do I cope?

Signed,
Scared Shitless in Seattle

Hi there, Scared!

It brings me no pleasure to inform you that I, Papi, share your fears. It is sadly the case that there’s plenty to be anxious about at the moment. The trends are worrisome. I think anyone who isn’t scared right now is either blissfully unaware or one of the villains from Captain Planet.

But upon reflection, I have to wonder if indeed such people even exist. It seems more likely that everyone, everywhere, all at once, is afraid. (Pop-culture reference! Nice.) What I mean is, fear is part of the human condition. It is inevitable. So rather than attempting to eliminate it, perhaps the more useful exercise is figuring out how to live with it, how to react to it and manage it.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wasn’t afraid, or who wasn’t living in a perilous condition of “pre-afraid,” as in, “oh no, I don’t want to be around when this person has to confront the looming specter of death for the first time.”

Outside of the extremely valid concerns you list, life would still be a frightening prospect. We are each of us born into a barbed, brutal world, tasked with ferrying a fragile heartbeat through its wildernesses. There is so much we don’t understand, so many things that seem determined to hurt us; it feels desperately unfair.

We all react to that fear in different ways. Some (I’d call them cowards) try to displace it onto the vulnerable “other” — the people who are ruining everything, the people who are keeping everyone else from utopia with their gosh darn genders and anime clubs or whatever. Some (I’d call them parasites) have determined it’s all a game, and in their nihilism they exploit others, exploit the planet, so that they might live in solipsistic excess before passing away. Both are illusions of control over a chaotic and irrational existence, in this columnist’s humble opinion.

So, where does that leave the rest of us?

The reality is, no matter who you are, this life demands bravery. Remember that for many people, things aren’t only recently trending in a terrifying direction. Your comfort has been disturbed, but there are people who have never experienced comfort at all.

I don’t say that to make you feel bad or to minimize your feelings, but to illustrate this point: Your comfort, anyone’s comfort, is contingent on the ebb and flow of cultural trends, on how people (that nebulous, unpredictable mass) react to the seismic shifts of society. It’s a fragile thing. What’s given can always be taken away.

It’s a frightening prospect, to be sure. It can make one want to dissociate entirely. But I’m not advocating for such a degree of existentialism that we abdicate our duties to one another, that we find refuge in indifference, zoom out so far and make everything so small that we abandon the stakes. Certainly not!

Because when I look at humanity, I see a history of finding joy and meaning in what we’ve built in and around the horns of life. Particularly when it comes to the historically oppressed, people against all odds have found music, found understanding, found each other. There’s so much beauty, so much goodness filtering down in streaks through the canopy. It makes me want to fight for it.

There are balancing acts to be had, I think, if we want to make fear bearable.

Fear is innate to you and me, we animals. It’s what we do with our fear that determines who we are. How we express agency over our brief time on earth is an articulation of our very beings, the geometry of our inner selves, it is us. So you have to decide who you are.

I can’t, Scared, guarantee anything. I can’t say the problems you list will be solved, or that the long arc of history will vindicate us in the end (what is the end?). I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is a guiding goodness to our universe. I believe goodness is a thing we have to bring about ourselves.

There’s comfort, for me, in that belief. It means we can at any given moment help bring goodness about. What if your fear motivated you to engage with the things that make you anxious? What if it brought you into community with people who share your concerns, the people who are working to improve things? What if it led you closer to your role in making a better tomorrow, led you closer to your sense of purpose?

Such work can greatly alleviate dread, in my experience. I get a lot of meaning from running this column, for example. The idea that I can help a complete stranger feel a little better about things, or provide them with useful language, makes me happy. It’s as good a reason as any for me to go on persisting, alongside almond croissants.

Ultimately, you’re right to be afraid. I’m afraid. But fear isn’t the only thing. Think of the world you want to live in, and live with intention toward it. That’s the best any of us can do. It can, I think, be well worth the trouble.

Con mucho amor,
Papi

Originally published on May 25, 2022.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

‘I’m Terrified at the State of the World’