FALLING AWAKE | Why is it?

One evening I sat in a little pub in my neighborhood talking to a man about local politics, when, out of the blue, he said, “You know it’s all a big conspiracy anyway.”

I like delving into the mind of another as much as the next person, maybe even more, so I might have asked, “What is?”

Except I know better.

The last time I gave someone an opening like this, I was sharing a seat on the #2 bus with a woman who started with, “the government is spreading mind-altering chemicals out of airplanes.”

That was it. I headed for another seat.

“And!” she shouted, “they are taking cursive away, see, so when the power goes out, we won’t be able to communicate and that’s when they’ll take over.”

Her tone was so heavy the bus didn’t feel big enough for all the fear she wanted me to feel. I was a nervous wreck when I got off the bus.

At one point I almost said, “Maybe the airplane contrails are condensation.” But I’ve met my share of conspiracy theorists and they tend to want to control the conversation, not listen, I have noticed that.

Here’s something else I noticed: Even though she rides the bus, she lives on Highland Drive, on the west side of Queen Anne Avenue.  It’s a neighborhood I can’t afford, but I like to study it, like how her shoes were Jimmy Choo, her hand bag was Chloé, and her sunglasses? Tom Ford, $495 retail. I was left wondering why is it that the conspiracy theorists I meet are generally the most well-off people I meet, too?

My work as a dance teacher has brought me to the far corners of the world. When I was teaching on the island of Saint Croix, I met many ex-pats. One couple in particular comes to mind, obviously of means, living in a beautiful home on the beach, nothing to want for, nothing to fear.

Except they did. They feared everything — the island, the local people on the island, potholes, politics, dog poo.

At first they seemed like well-informed people, but as the conversation wore on, they started to sound more like a couple of drunks convinced that the end of the world is near. As strong as the beer their breath gave off, there were strong whiffs of apocalypse, too.

As theories of conspiracy go, end-of-civilization fear is more than a little scary to me, seeing as how the gypsy side of my Italian lineage was rounded up during WW II and whisked off to the ovens, too.

I know theories don’t hurt people, people hurt people. But so does fear. I know of a family on the Olympic Peninsula so far into apocalypse-dread, their 14-year-old daughter committed suicide to avoid it.

So I wonder, is all this fear a metaphor for being unable to make peace with our selves, unfulfilled dreams, mistakes made? Or is this what happens when too much idle time is spent looking backward from a bar stool? Or bus seat? Are conspiracy theorists disillusioned, bored, isolated, lonely?

The local people in St. Croix, on the other hand, much like people I’ve met in other places where no one can afford much, whose kids share one pair of ballet slippers between multiple dancers, seem so grateful for what little they have, and were quick to tell me so, saying things like, “we are blessed, sweet Lord, thank you for these shoes!”

When the same drunken couple agreed that the “real” war is with “the Muslims,” my response, in a burst of bravado, was to remind them that Americans kill 12,000 of each other annually on the average. “And if that isn’t war, I don’t know what is,” I said, knowing it was pointless to goad him.

It felt good, though.

But only until I remembered there are too many wars raged on too many fronts already. And I’d just started another one.

I was out the door before either of us could say another word.

MARY LOU SANELLI is a poet, speaker and author of nonfiction who lives in Belltown. Her collection of essays, “A Woman Writing,” is available from Aequitas Books. She can be reached at www.marylousanelli.com.