There’s no denying the fact that “stuff happens”


A local friend (who originally introduced me to the idea of beach living) proudly declares: ‘Things are so peaceful around here, we don’t even lock our doors!’ For her, and many others, it seems to be a matter of pride to not secure one’s home and car. On the surface, the whole idea seems so idyllic and countrified. I can almost hear the little kittens meowing and the plaintive honk of a distant goose. But news stories in the recent past seem to call some of this idealism—and naivet”into question.

Over the past few years, several area ‘home invasions’ involving vandalism, bodily harm and theft occurred through unlocked doors. A gunman recently gained access to a woman’s home in Rehoboth Beach—through unlocked doors—with fatal results. Two cars—the keys hanging invitingly in the ignition—were recently stolen and taken on joyrides. A business associate of mine used to proclaim smugly that he never locked the doors of his home in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C.—until his wife was terrorized and robbed by an intruder (fortunately she was unharmed). Years ago, I read of a woman who went out for a solitary winter walk in the deserted quiet of a nearby Lewes wildlife refuge. She never returned.

No, this is not a tirade about crime or the poor miscreants who steal from, hurt and/or murder others. It is also not intended to scare, intimidate or diminish the rural splendor that many of us came here to enjoy. But it does point to the undeniable fact that ‘stuff happens.’ And there’s my point: Why do some of us, flying in the face of indisputable evidence, insist on leaving our doors open and our car keys dangling, placing our loved ones and possessions in perpetual jeopardy? Why do so many people insist on inviting trouble—or worse—right onto their doorstep?

Of course, most people who do these things don’t intentionally want trouble. What they do want is the illusion of comfort; the falsely idealized notion that they live in a world where something bad ‘can’t happen to me.’ It gives a false sense of power and security (like the seventh martini for the alcoholic, or the thrill of potential victory for the compulsive gambler) to leave one’s door open ‘against all odds.’ I can certainly understand the desire to feel triumphant, alive and in charge of one’s destiny. Indeed, who wouldn’t want to live in a neighborhood where you never had to worry about locking your doors or your car? But, sadly, wishing for something doesn’t make it so. To me, it makes more sense to let go of the unrealistic dreams so that your life can be safe enough to enjoy the realistic ones.

Adolescents and teenagers, prone to this ‘it can’t happen to me’ psychology, often do unwise things. But their youthful sense of immortality just doesn’t stand up to the facts. It’s really no different from adults who make unsound decisions based on nothing more than wishful thinking. There’s a psychological defense mechanism—a mental barrier, so to speak—between objective reality and the perception that life requires caution.

Caution, by the way, isn’t the same as fear. Caution doesn’t mean living your life in constant avoidance of danger. Caution means understanding that certain actions and behaviors don’t make sense, and then accepting that fact so life can be enjoyed with as little interference and pain as possible.

A neurotically fearful person is reluctant to do anything; perpetually in dread of ‘what can happen.’ A healthy person assumes he can do many things, but first checks out reality before forging ahead. A good example is the airline pilot doing all the pre-flight checks before takeoff. There’s nothing neurotically fearful about this. It’s eminently sensible. The pilot’s pre-flight checklist can be a metaphor for life: Fly as high and as far as you can—but first make sure everything’s in working order.

Some people find it depressing or unsettling to let go of the personal myth that ‘it can’t happen to me.’ They feel like they’re losing something. The man who refuses to lock his door, or the teenager who doesn’t see a problem with reckless driving, both want to live life fully rather than be depressed—and good for them. But operating on the unspoken premise that ‘it can’t happen to me’ is a surefire recipe for depression—or worse—when unhappy consequences eventually come to pass.

You don’t have to spend all your time worrying about what could be just around the corner. You simply have to be prepared, so you can stop worrying and get on with your life. There’s a wise saying that goes like this: ‘Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.’ My variation on this sentiment is: ‘Prepare for the worst, so you can live life at its best.’