The Use of Caution Amidst Danger

 photo by Hunter Folsom

photo by Hunter Folsom

By: Ginnie Revenaugh

I found myself wandering the streets of Frankfurt, Germany in early December this year, passing the janky souvenir shops and eastern-influenced grocery stores with unusual trepidation. I had no destination in mind, but with a few days to kill before my family arrived, I felt obligated to explore. With my head held high and a don’t-mess-with-me pace, I set off towards the Christmas markets. The false confidence failed to abate the unease I felt, but I made it to the comfort of the markets before deciding to hole up in my hostel. I surfaced only for sustenance (much needed coffee and the ever-comforting falafel) and to retrieve my family from the airport. I was thrown off by my irrationality - normally I’m pretty good at being alone, and I don’t scare easily. Why was traveling by myself in Frankfurt, only an hour from where I study, so terrifying?

At the time, I assumed my fear stemmed from the usual suspects: the area with strip joints, sex stores, and suggestive advertisements that was too close for comfort. Maybe it was the vast number of people - who reeked of both urine and a suspicious skunk-like stench - in the train station foraging for discarded food scraps. I sure wasn’t calmed by the groups of men standing outside the Kebab stands smoking, staring, and laughing at my not-so-tough-girl face. My overactive imagination and crime-show addiction only added fuel to the fire. 

At first, I wrote these fears off as insignificant and even weak. Aggravated by my dormant adventurous spirit, I berated myself and sat in bed, watching Netflix show upon Netflix show.

But after I reunited with my family and felt comfortable to travel again, my perspective began to change. A month of travel later, I realized that my fear was not as irrational as I thought. We are living in a time of volatility. Fear is a natural reaction to recent events in Europe, and being alone only heightened my awareness of these things. 

Tensions are high as nations attempt to curtail the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the fear it has instilled after the Paris attacks. Bomb scares in train stations and ISIS’ vengeful videos only fuel the terror. For many weeks following the attacks, no one felt safe, every public area was a risky venture, and I made sure to tell my family an extra amount of times how much I loved them. The fragility of life became all too apparent. 

As a result of ISIS and other persecutors, millions of people are fleeing to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, and other war-torn areas. Many nations have responded to the refugees with exclusivist policies. Hungary, for example, has closed its borders entirely. Slovakia has firmly insisted that they can’t take any Muslims because they’re a Christian nation. Austria has set a firm cap on the number of refugees allowed.

Germany has kept its borders open, accepting over one million refugees thus far. The lack of border restriction is largely due to a national law that, “persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right to asylum.” Until now, German chancellor Angela Merkel has stuck stubbornly to this law, begging neighbor nations to take part in this social responsibility. However, as the number of refugees continues to swell, public opinion sours and many call for Merkel to change her policies. Hundreds of sexual assaults committed by West African refugees on New Year's Eve in Cologne, Germany only reinforced public dissent from Merkel’s “good will.”

Germany, and the world at large, is in crisis mode. There are no easy answers or quick fixes to appease public nerves. So, I guess the fear I experienced in Frankfurt was somewhat justified. Caution is the predominant mindset these days; teachers, parents, peers, and public figures all urge prudence. 

Caution is safe - it’s comfortable. But if there’s anything that I’ve realized living smack dab in the middle of this mess, it’s that we cannot let fear paralyze us. I can’t succumb to this fear that had me hiding behind the safety of a screen and watching too many TV shows. I can’t quench the sense of adventure that commands me to jump up and explore different facets of a complex, thriving city. 

Yes, fear is healthy - and, at times, justified - and caution can be a tool of self-preservation. It’s sort of like lemonade: too much sour, your lips pucker and your facial muscles contort as you try to force it down; too much sugar, you end up scraping your tongue clear of the overwhelming sweetness. Life can be sour (or dangerous, a synonym to sour in this analogy), but contrasted with the perfect amount of sweetness (or caution), there is nothing to prevent you from viva-ing la vida.

In maintaining that balance, you have created the best recipe with which to approach life.