There’s a quickening of my heart, trot to canter. I can’t quite tell what causes it. It could be anything, these days. Deportation forces carrying out round-ups, dark and quiet, separating families and devastating lives, but barely making news. Threats of war. The dangerous game of placing deadly weapons in incompetent, thoughtless hands. Matches in the hands of a malicious child, much too close to things that will go up in flame and engulf him and everyone around him.
It is maybe 20 minutes before I realize what I’m doing. Even just reading the list brings me comfort… “Things you need for your bug-out bag.” It was only weeks ago that I didn’t even know what a bug-out bag was, but now I think of it constantly. The bug out bag: the bag you’ll throw in the car as you escape… what? The incoming nuclear bomb? The climate change-fueled storm? The zombie apocalypse? (Which at times feels like it’s already happened). Yes, all, none, maybe, whatever. How many carabiners will I need when the end comes?
I need three bags. One for each life that counts on me. I imagine the Rubbermaid closet I’ll keep them in, in the basement, up off the ground to avoid rising flood waters. How much bottled water should I keep? Do I need rain barrels? Or is sheltering in place unreasonable, and do I need a stove to boil my water and snares to catch squirrels?
Yep, it’s suddenly Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in my mind.
I wonder if I’m cracking up. I am not a prepper, I tell myself, conspiracy theorist, anti-government nutjob. I’m not. I know we landed on the moon. I know 9/11 happened the way it happened. No controlled detonations in my mind. And yet the very sight of paracords and Molle system backpacks, “tactical” bug-out bags fills me with a sweet feeling. What is it?
Safety. I want to feel safe.
I want to know that I will always have everything I need. That I will always be able to take care of my own. This is a tricky feeling for me at the best of times – poor washes off slowly, like a thick tar. But add in some political instability and the specter of heartless immigration enforcement, and my alarm bells ring constantly. The feeling brews in my subconscious in ways I can’t identify until I am twenty minutes in to researching tactical flashlights and solar-powered radios, and creating a detailed budget of how long it will take to get everything on the list, how many paychecks away I am from feeling prepared.
But here’s the trick: it’s an illusion. There is always some eventuality I can’t plan for. Have enough water, but what about food? I’ll stockpile food, but what about warmth? I’ll learn fire-starting, but what about security, transportation… the list goes on and on. Because security is not about things, but about a certainty, inside. It will not fit neatly in three bags.
And that is the worst of these times, the teetering feeling of the precipice drawing nigh, events spiraling. It’s rational to reach for the things that still the feelings of danger. But the answer is deeper. Some days I reach it: you’ve got this, it says. Other times I surf bug-out bag content lists on the internet. And maybe that’s how I make it through.
(PS, no, I have not stockpiled food or learned to make fire with twigs, because I know that’s not the answer. I just read all about it).