Once there was considerable uncertainty about the exact location of “Harm’s Way.” This, despite the fact that the phrase “in harm’s way” was on the lips of nearly everybody, from respected opinion leaders and rank upon rank of television reporters lined up to echo one another right on down to the man or woman on the street looking both ways before jaywalking. Yet anybody seeking to inquire where exactly “Harm’s Way” might be found typically received a flurry of contradictory responses: “It’s in this direction.” “No, that direction.” “Are you both blind, it’s clearly right over there.” “Over there? Can’t you see two inches in front of your face?” Conflicts of opinion on this order often started small but quickly drew large crowds, with heated divisions spreading in all directions as neighbor turned from neighbor and even family member from family member in spluttering frustration. To say nothing of the age-old differences of opinion between generations, communities, nations, and ultimately entire cultures that grew increasingly pronounced as the exact whereabouts of “Harm’s Way” became ever more obscure. Like historical disputes over “terra incognita” and “Here Be Monsters” notations on fading maps, these larger wrangles could prove diplomatically awkward and long-lasting. Were it not for the inevitable eruption of a new disagreement that refocused everybody’s attention on yet another claim to have discovered the true location of “Harm’s Way.” Even with such pressure-releasing shifts, a universal concern steadily grew that if some form of compromise was not worked out, and soon, virtually every spot on Earth might become “Harm’s Way” by default. And then where would generations, communities, nations, and ultimately entire cultures find themselves? So an international commission was hurriedly formed, complete with famous dignitaries and enormous staffs, to negotiate a document of understanding on Harm’s Way acceptable to all. The opening ceremonies for this momentous endeavor went well enough, for there were all the customary formalities to observe, which succeeded in keeping differences in check under the established strictures of decorum. Once actual deliberations got underway, however, it became apparent that none of the participants were willing to pinpoint “Harm’s Way” in any definite manner that would reflect badly upon their own little patches of the globe. Almost daily, entire delegations up and walked out of the negotiations in protest, only to return hastily when it became evident their protest had fallen on deaf ears and some crucial decision might be made in their absence that would designate their “home sweet home” “Harm’s Way in Perpetuity.” Now was not the time to stand on protocol or to be timorous in the face of such a dire threat. It might have been argued that a universal agreement to declare a moratorium on overuse of the expression “in harm’s way” as shorthand for whatever felt alien to one’s own view of the world might have lowered suspicions and eventually led at least to an uneasy truce based on mutual civility, good will, and some attempt to understand the lives of others. But efforts in this direction led nowhere. Too much was demanded to do what would have been necessary, it appeared, at whatever level, from highest diplomacy to a squabble in the street. While by contrast the familiar shorthand was so very convenient. And again, at all the same levels, from highest diplomacy to squabbles in the street. Until not a patch of ground anywhere hadn’t been labeled “Harm’s Way” once or twice at a minimum, and some many times more than that. Ultimately a person didn’t have to point in any particular direction whatsoever when making the claim since all directions were assumed to be implied, and a simple whirling of the arms would suffice. Between the default cliché and the mechanical gestures, few of those raising the constant alarms paused to consider that “Harm’s Way” might not lie someplace out there beyond their comfort zone but rather deep within the darkest regions of their own minds.
Copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey Grosshans