What makes us scare ourselves?

Published 2:00 am Saturday, October 4, 2014

We human beings are strange characters. Why do we like to scare ourselves?

I must be on every list circulating in the mail offering newsletters relating to avoiding or coping with all kinds of health problems. I admit I have subscriptions to a couple of them. Every time one finds its way to my mailbox, it grabs my attention. Oh my goodness! Before long, as I start , I wonder if I might have whatever ailments are described in that issue.

With pounding heart and rasping breath, I scan the symptoms: fatigue, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, out of sorts, dread getting out of bed in the morning, headaches, leg cramps, toe cramps, hand cramps, pain in the heels, too much sleep, too little sleep, back ache, hip ache…you get the picture. By the time I thoroughly examine and absorb the latest newsletter, I have diagnosed myself with so many conditions I tremble, wondering if the next few minutes might be my last.

Yet, as soon as I get another one of those newsletters, I snatch it open and hurriedly flip the pages, primed to find out what I might have developed since the last issue. Why do I keep scaring myself like that?

Maybe it is human nature to behave that way. I remember some examples of that tendency in my son and daughter when they were children. Our son loved to watch cartoons when he was four or five years old. One featuring Porky Pig included a scene with a row of camels plodding across a desert with their shadows reflected on the sand. As soon as that scene appeared, accompanied by a song, “The Campbells (or camels) are coming,” he raced across the living room and hid behind a chair. Then, apparently feeling safe back there, he stuck his head out to watch the rest of the cartoon unfold. As soon as that scary part ended, he emerged from his hiding place. However, he never shied away from that cartoon. As many times as it appeared, he sat there until that scene, then ran back to his hiding place when the camels slowly moved across the desert.

All during her growing-up years, our daughter’s favorite movie was “The Wizard of Oz,” starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. One night when she was in her mid-twenties, we watched the movie together. “Here comes that part that always scared me so much when I was little,” she said. Instinctively, she put her hands over her eyes. It was the scene where the ugly, evil witch rode out a tornado on a bicycle while Dorothy hung onto her house as the tornado swept it through the air. My daughter dreaded the time when that scene appeared. Yet she loved the movie so much, she covered her face with her hands, closed her eyes and waited it out.

Just like my persistence in reading health newsletters, my children kept going back for the cartoon and movie with scary scenes. Yes, aren’t we strange?