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Don’t Panic. Really, we mean it this time.

In Books, Literature, Media, National News, Opinion, Politics, psychology, sociology on April 17, 2013 at 7:00 am

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

dontpanicIn 1978, a radio comedy called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams, aired as a series on the BBC. Hitchhiker’s was a wholly remarkable radio show that eventually became a wholly remarkable television program, and a series of wholly remarkable – not to mention lucrative – novels, five in the so-called trilogy. A sixth novel was completed by a different author in 2009, eight years after Adams’ untimely death.

Commonly known by fans as, “HG2G,” Hitchhiker’s was essentially a parody of age-old science fiction with a satirical spin. The story line is filled with political satire and a pinch of sarcastic banter, the focus of which was the “establishment,” whatever that meant to the reader.

The story begins with one ordinary man’s adjustment to being transported from Earth only moments before it is destroyed to make way for a bypass for space ships. Suddenly thrust into a galaxy of crazy characters and a manically depressed robot named Marvin, human Arthur Dent is dumbstruck by his complete lack of ability to adapt.

Arthur’s friend Ford, an intergalactic researcher who rescued Arthur from his doomed world, finds his way through the galaxy hitchhiking and following the advice of an electronic book, whose cover is inscribed, in large, friendly letters, with the words, “Don’t Panic.” As the pair travels through the stars, Arthur finds little comfort in his new life except for the constant search for a nice hot cup of tea and the friendly inscription on the cover of his electronic guidebook.

A prolific writer and avid environmentalist, Douglas Adams may be single-handedly responsible for inventing the concept of the e-reader (which is essentially what the “Guide” was) nearly three decades before Amazon, the iPad or even the Internet ever existed. Adams also managed to show us the world more as it really it is than how we’d rather it be. I think that’s where, “Don’t Panic,” came from in the first place.

As Adams’ character, Arthur Dent found out, there are simply things we cannot control so the best thing to do is try to keep our heads and move through it. By a curious coincidence, as I watched the tragic events of terrorism unfold in Boston this week, I found myself thinking about the cover of Adams’ book and those large, friendly letters. “Don’t Panic” seemed like just the kind of thing you’d want someone to say to you at a moment like that.

I’ve never been in a situation like a terrorist bombing, but I have had my share of life and death scrapes over the years. From a head-on truck crash that should have certainly killed me to dealing with the painful helplessness of watching my mother whither away from Alzheimer’s disease, I have learned which things I should panic about and what I should try to just push through. And I don’t believe I’m alone in that practice, by any stretch of the imagination.

Given the circumstances, there is no level of security that could have prevented what happened in Boston. But when it did, people clearly pushed their fear and panic aside, stepped up and did their best to help each other through a horrible situation. Human beings are resilient, even though some might seem like they’re not. We’ve managed around 15 million years of evolution so there must be something to us, right?

I had the good fortune to meet Douglas Adams in 1992 when he came to Dayton for a book signing. Thanks to a fortuitous hiccup in the autograph line, I found myself standing in front of the author for several minutes. He was as gracious and humble, kindly asking how I liked his work.

As we chatted, I asked him what it meant – Don’t Panic. He said simply, “Whatever you need it to.” He also told me I should continue writing and not let the problems of the world interfere with my creativity and positive outlook. I’ve tried hard to do both. So the next time you’re faced with a tough situation just remember the Hitchhiker’s cover line: Don’t Panic. After all, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at http://www.gerydeer.com

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