The Sky is Falling Down – The Lesson of Chicken Licken


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My favourite book as a child was Chicken Licken. The woman who minded me during my summer holidays in Ireland had the patience of several saints, and read it to me on repeat. Day after day. Chicken Licken was heading off to tell the king that the sky was falling down.

I get that now. I always think the sky is about to fall down.

My trip to America brought up this deep underlying fear: I’m going to die. It repeated through my head like a stuck record turned up full volume. All day and night, it wailed on.

To be honest it’s nothing new – just bigger, louder, more insistent. I have always been aware of the shortness of my life: every time I drive around a corner, every time someone else drives me, the sound track starts (and did way before I had my car crash). I’m going to die.

I remember really clearly the feeling that I would not make it to secondary school. As someone with quite strong intuition I interpreted this as: I’m going to die before I get there. I felt it so strongly I remember confiding it to my dearest friend Emma (who has had a lot of strange confessions from me over the years, and yet still loves me.)

I couldn’t see the future, so I figured I wasn’t in it.

Talking with a good friend this weekend, she was telling me how she feels relaxed about the time she is taking to mother her expanding brood, as she knows she will come into her own in her fifties. I loved her calm faith in the future. And it reminded me just how little of it I have. I cannot envision myself in the future. I do not believe I will exist there.

I am future-blind. I also really struggle with change.

So I work double hard, I am extra cautious. I am always prepared.

Before I always thought that it was because I was seeing more clearly than others. That I could not trust that I would be here tomorrow. That all would be OK tomorrow. So I try to get everything. Read: EV-ERY-THING. Done now. Today.

My husband can tell you a thing or two about the amount of pressure it puts me under. That it puts him and the whole family under too. Must. Do. It. Now. Before. We. Die.

Same goes for anyone who’s ever worked with me.

Don’t you know, the sky is falling down.

And so as a result I always have everything done a week early. At least. To alleviate that pressure of the blank, unknowable, terrifying future.

The sky is falling down.

But, here’s the thing. It never has. Tomorrow, has come, again and again, and has rarely been as terrifying as I imagined. And as for me, as I kept saying in America: I’m still alive.

As a society we have done this since forever. Each generation believing apocalypse is just around the corner. The media and religions and state are invested in telling us so… and then offering to save us from it, if we only hand over our money and our power. They are the fox in the Chicken Licken story, saying he will take us across the river to the king, if we only will step on his back.

We are future blind. And our fear of what if tends to cage our creative spirits. And so we live in a prison of getting through today. Or numbing ourselves to everything. And not trusting tomorrow.

We are always told by those with only days to live to enjoy every moment, to live every day as though it’s our last. And whilst that’s a good prescription for letting go of minor irritations, and stepping into love, there is another side to it: not allowing ourselves the freedom of possibility, the permission of tomorrow, the trust in the future.

If there’s one thing humanity is teaching us over and over in these burning times, it is this: you cannot trust the future. We are making our world inherently unstable with the decisions we are making, that are being made on our behalf. We are living, in the words of Jean Paul Sartre, in bad faith. We are not trusting life.

I think, in these shaky times, it is time to trust life. To stop being so future-blind.

We are still alive.

We are creative.

We are powerful.

The sky is not falling down. So don’t jump on the fox’s back.

You’ve got wings. So use ’em.