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Goodbye Darkness, My Old Friend

2016

It’s so easy to diss New Year’s resolutions; to snort at the countless memes ripping into fired-up pledgers; to just know – without all the surveys – that only 8% of us ever deliver on our earnest intentions. September is also supposed to be the new January; the natural re-focuser after a summer of long evenings, big dreams and fantastic skin. Anything is possible! Which is generally in stark relief to your post-Christmas state, when yanking on your thermal socks is a victory.

But despite rolling with the elite 8% that one year – apologies to all who endured my demented anti-smoking rebirth – I’ve long abandoned even the pretence of a New Year’s list.

This year, though, has been special. It’s been one jaw-dropping catastrophe after the next; the world as we know it hurtling towards a dystopian reality, which a good chunk of the globe seems to be cheering on. And it’s all down to Fear. It’s got me thinking about a serious reboot, a renewed commitment to being a better human. It’s got me thinking about Fear and how I’ve so readily subscribed to scaremongering and paranoia.

I’ve often considered how I might be Fear’s little back-scratcher, how my yearning for a panic room and a can of mace defies rationale; how my SAS instincts darken otherwise innocent trips to the cinema. And I’m pretty sure it all started in the eighties.

My mother had a recurring dream when I was a child. Ireland had been seized and occupied by a martial enemy (nation unspecified) and two rogue deserters had broken into our family home. Toothless and notably hirsute, the men tore through the house looking for anything they could hawk to survive. Frustrated at their lack of spoils, they were maniacal by the time they reached my mother, cowered in her bed at the top of the house. Still coming up empty, one of them spotted her engagement ring, glinting in the darkness. They huffed and they puffed but they couldn’t inch the ring off her finger. Terrified, my mother called out to me over and over. When I eventually turned up at her bedroom door one of the men had produced a hand-saw. ‘Call the police, call the police,’ my mother screamed, (at which I imagine the action paused and three expectant faces looked my way). But I did absolutely nothing, just stood there, not calling the police. And so ends the dream.

‘You see?’ Mum said to me, the first morning she shared her horror. ‘You were too shy to pick up the phone and get help!’ And that was all the validation she needed to kick start a sporadic campaign of buying things in shops and supermarkets for me to later return; to ‘build my confidence.’ At a time when the customer wasn’t always right.

Now, this isn’t a pseudo-therapy spiel to out the unorthodox teachings of my mother. I happen to love my Mum’s darkness, which is and always has been delivered with a large wedge of disarming humour. This is about fear creeping into our consciousness and moulding who we are. When you’re reared by an aspiring DCI, forensic analyst and general fatalist, something’s got to stick.

Like one of the two constants on my old and never-achieved New You list: Learn a Martial Art. Honing the skills to slay any wannabe assailants with a double-leg takedown, surprise choke-hold and a fiery, little snap-punch sequence seemed the obvious solution for a chilled life and a less hysterical daily commute. If only there wasn’t five years’ hard training between me, a black-belt and total street domination I’m sure I would’ve done it.

When my much more zen husband took up Aikido – a martial art that channels the thrust of your opponents’ movements back at them – he invited me to try him out after class one evening. ‘Come at me,’ he said. ‘Any way you want.’ It was music to my ears, Cameo’s Word Up on replay. It was our Jerry Maguire moment. The fact that my mouth wouldn’t close for smiling should have been a warning to us both. I lunged and punched with the menace of a seasoned bare- knuckle scrapper but was easily disabled in a series of choreographed moves.

My husband, believing his work was done, started to retreat. In class, this would probably be the time you graciously bow at your opponent and jog on. But we weren’t in class. This was a combat situation and the target was still mobile. I shot back up from the floor and gripping my husband’s nipples – one per finger-pincer – I twisted until all love left his eyes and my mental stability was being furiously questioned.

Still, the win made me a bit cocky. I scratched mastering a martial art from my #lifegoals but continued to run like a possessed ostrich after dark.

A few years on, living back in Dublin, with two kids almost ready to plunge into the global abyss, I’ve had to check myself, to consciously negotiate fear. It’s long gone beyond personal safety; it’s who minds our kids; asking for a pay rise; not having health insurance; online bullying; hormonally pumped meat and dairy; being alone; doing exams; homelessness; public speaking; racism; career disillusionment; murderous clowns; getting pregnant; losing a parent; glass ceilings; the normalisation of cosmetic surgery; screen addiction; wild consumerism; cloning; not having enough money; getting old; having a sick child; finding a lump; insomnia; not getting pregnant; unchartered levels of narcissism and emotional detachment; Brexit; ISIS; Putin; Le Pen; the systematic deconstruction of liberal values; nuclear warfare. The apocalypse. And now, Trump. 2016 must officially be The Year Fear Won.

Since Listerine’s She Simply Cannot Hold on to a Fellow (because of her scorching halitosis) ads in the 1930’s, fear has been used to sell. And I’ve been buying. All the time trusting in the fact that people are innately good, despite knowing how to kick-out a tail-light in a car-boot emergency.

It’s taken The Donald’s obscene-circus rise to immeasurable power for me to get my own house in order, to take stock of how virally toxic and destructive fear is and to re-set my hopes for the year ahead. Maybe it’s convenient timing; maybe it’s Numerology’s nine year cycle completing; maybe it’s the mass awakening of those who can no longer trust the system but I’m finally ready to get off my commando buns and do something.

Which brings me back to the second, previous constant on my Never Ever Done It list: signing up to do local voluntary work. Just in case you thought I was going to parachute into Syria. Baby steps. Instead of waiting until early 2017 to make the call, I’ve done it; signed up, side-stepped theoretical obstacles and embraced an immense surge of readiness.

And that’s it. Now, I’m just a routine police check and a couple of character references away from probable sainthood and a rammed crematorium in sixty years or so. As long as my husband never reported the twisty-nipple episode, we’re all good.

If you’d like to find out more about volunteering in your community please visit www.volunteer.ie.

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