I used to be really freaked out by aliens
During some span of time during my elementary years, maybe between ages 8 and 10, I was convinced a UFO was landing in my front yard at night. I’d lie awake in my bed and watch the window for lights to push through my closed blinds, resting relieved and reassured when the sound of a car passing quickly followed. I’d even written a note one night and left it on my kitchen table, asking the aliens to “please sign here” if they were really visiting my house, to prove to my parents that my trips into their room at 3 a.m., pleading them to please check the front lawn, weren’t just in delusional panic. (They were!)
When I was younger (and probably up through an older age than I’d like to admit) I really believed that most things were solvable — or at least understandable. Too young to remember 9/11 but not old enough to absorb the headlines on TV, I thought that this nebulous thing called “government” kept the country working. What that word meant, I didn’t know. I just knew that there were big elections for big people who knew how big things were supposed to work. I didn’t know what a “safety net” was, but I think I imagined that big adults — elected officials, doctors, teachers, authors, scientists — wove together into a really wide world of smart people who understood things I never could.
Maybe I was scared of aliens because they were (what I perceived to be) this other-worldly threat to normal and ordinary human life, and a threat that wasn’t accounted for in this safety net of adults that knew how to fix things. No one knew about aliens! They could just attack us all one day and we’d not be prepared in the slightest! The same reasoning applied to my fears of ghosts, or demons, or whatever other images stuck in my head from watching too many unsupervised episodes of unsolved mysteries. There weren’t experts that would protect people from ghosts, only those kooky guys on TV with the handheld electromagnetic remotes that are supposed to pick up “paranormal activity”, or whatever. There wasn't an agency to call if you suspected your house was haunted, or if you were convinced a UFO landed in your yard every night. (Or at least, no one who would take you seriously.)
I was staring at a sidewalk, waiting a red light today, two-ish months into a global pandemic, listening to some podcast about how neither Democrats nor Republicans know how to (or intend to) pass a relief bill that will actually help the American people, when I realized that adults (something I am now, too) don’t really know everything, or anything? Trite as it sounds, I think I always trusted that someone out there who knew about things I wasn’t smart enough to understand were problem solvers. I don’t understand the economy, but thank god there are people that do! I don’t understand viruses, but thank god there are people that do!
I guess what I'm saying is that growing up, I believed that adults could identify problems and injustices and try to fix them, or at the very least explain what the problem was. What I’m thinking about now, when the most powerful people in the country don’t know how to fix anything, or aren’t even really trying, is that growing into adulthood, or having a specific job, or studying in a specific field, might mean you understand more about how something works, but in no way prepares you for what to do when it doesn’t.
Every day, the messaging from the big adults is contradictory and perplexing, and no one knows how to solve the immediate problem, let alone figure out a way to rework a system that’s long been broken. I see “flattening the curve” in chyrons and I see articles about “promising” vaccine trials, but I also see the raw data that shows who’s dying the most, and the historically high unemployment rate, and the narrative transforming from “service worker” to “essential worker” to “hero”, without much action being taken to fix things, for the “heroes.”
I was scared of aliens because they weren’t a problem I saw any adult, any big smart person, having a solution for. And now it’s clear that I still don’t understand a lot about the actual scary things, like how an economy or a government functions, but that a whole lot of big smart adults don’t either.