Letting Go of Doomsday

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One morning, when my wife was twenty-four weeks pregnant, I demolished our entire kitchen. The plan was to complete the remodel by the time the baby came. But the baby came a week later.

He’s fine now, and one day we’ll have some good stories to tell him. About how he was born with two hours’ notice. The rush to the hospital. The resulting stay, which lasted over a hundred days and cost more than a million dollars. We’ll tell him all about that one day. But I want to tell you about the kitchen.

Before tiny houses were a thing, we bought a house everyone called tiny. Eight hundred square feet, open floor plan, single bath. There are exactly two sinks and two exterior doors. About a fourth of the entire square footage is in the kitchen. But during this time, the hardest time of our lives, that kitchen was nothing but some pipes coming out of the floor. All access to the kitchen and its exterior door, through which we accessed our washer and dryer in the basement, was covered by plastic sheeting.
I wanted to write for Morgan because she does such a great job at integrating prepping into a family life. But I pitched my idea with a disclaimer: I’m not sure I’m a prepper. I thought I was, back in the day. I had a rifle and a bug out bag in the trunk of my car when we pulled up to the hospital. But you know what all that gear is worth when they wheel your wife away to the OR?

Absolutely nothing.

To be honest, I didn’t think much about prepping for the next two years, and when I did, I shrugged it off as an impossible task. It no longer felt like my identity. We used up all our stores when we had no refrigerator or kitchen sink. I had sold my black rifle, and my sidearm was at a friend’s house, because, after watching my son fight for his life through emergency surgeries and blood transfusions and bacterial infections, I didn’t feel mentally fit to carry.

I was an unmitigated wreck. So much of prepping is pride in the fact that you’re ready for anything. Turned out I was ready for nothing that happened during those hundred-plus days. I wasn’t ready for grave talks with the doctors, and I wasn’t ready to go begging for Drano at the neighbor’s door because our one sink was clogged up and my wife needed to wash her breast pump.

Supply lines hadn’t been cut. The grid hadn’t gone down. But life had happened.

The trouble was that it was still happening. The national fever of the 2016 election was spreading. My conservative friends were all asking me what gun purchases they should make before Hillary took office, and my liberal friends were asking what they should do if Trump actually won the nomination. They weren’t quite ready to consider that he could win the presidency itself.

Slowly I realized that this climate did indeed pose a threat to my family. And it still does. Our new normal is not normal. It’s 2018, but in a very real way, the election is still going. The American public watches the news every day wondering what will happen next. What will be the outcome of this era?
Whether I felt ready or not, it was time to prepare. But my faith in beans and bullets had been shaken. My ability–financially, emotionally or otherwise–to reach my previous level of readiness was gone. And now I had a two-year-old son with special needs. We were starting over, from scratch.

Many preppers will scoff at the decision we’ve made, so I’ll go ahead and pose it dramatically: We have decided to die. If there is a nuclear war, we will die. If there is an EMP strike, we will die. Zombies, asteroid, Yellowstone super volcano, foreign invasion. We’ll try to die well, but die we will, and our son, too. Will it be sad? Yes. Is there anything we can reasonably do about it?

It’s arguable. With enough resources, you can prepare for anything. But I’ll counter that argument with an axiom I’ve adopted since I tore apart that kitchen: If you want to make God laugh, plan.

Letting go of doomsday is incredibly liberating. Rather than go into debt for radiological protection or two years’ worth of food, we’re prepping for survivable situations. I could live for two years on beans and rice, even after a dose of radiation. But my son couldn’t. And what else am I really living for?

This kind of spiritual simplification, which I reached not through any merit of my own but through incredibly trying circumstances, is now the bedrock of my readiness strategy, and it’s something I think a lot of preppers miss. For life to be worth living, we must be vulnerable. Prepping is not about controlling all outcomes, but accepting all outcomes on your own terms.

So all of that is preamble to the kind of actionable information Morgan wants her readers to have.

Here are the steps we have taken to make it through life.

  • We learn instead of buy. Gear is important, but it’s also just gear. I’m out in the woods several times a week. Learning to hunt, to fish, to start fires. In the spring we plan to garden.
  • We simplify and minimize. We maintain our house and our cars. We embrace the mundane tasks of keeping up with life, so that when emergencies come, we don’t have to lean on others.
  • We have become financial hawks. With medical bills (yes, we were insured, and yes, we’ll still be paying off our son’s hospital stay for the rest of our lives) and all the expenses a little one brings, we can’t afford lax fiscal discipline. And prepping is just another line item in the budget, so it must be limited, too.
  • We standardized on .22 long rifle. Guns are expensive and ammo is more expensive. In almost any situation in which we need a gun, a .22 will do just fine. And those other situations? Refer to the above about dying well.
  • We don’t keep Bug Out Bags, we keep “Ready Bags.” We cannot bug out, we don’t have anywhere to go, and our home is about as safe as we could hope for while still living in an area where we can work. Our bags are basic 24 hour kits designed to get us home or keep us in place until it’s safe to move.
  • We prep for two weeks. We have tried many times to prep for longer periods, but inevitably, we can’t sustain the organizational burden. And since our son was a preemie, he grew much faster even than normal kids, making it impossible to know what sizes and amounts he would need in the coming months. So we prep small and rotate often. And rather than prep for longer times, when we’re able we prep for more people. Our parents, our friends, our neighbors. In small ways that they may not even notice, we’re shoring up foundations under them.
  • We network, which was something we never did before. A hundred days with a family emergency and no kitchen will teach you the importance of a support system. Now we want to be able to support those around us.
  • We’re grayed out. After an emergency room visit (family stomach bug, yay!) in which my digi-camo ready bag got quite a lot of looks, I decided to lower my prepping profile. Now I use the navy LL Bean backpack that got me through college and save the camo for the woods. My “tactical folder” is now a two-inch CRKT Squid, because I hang out with other parents and children all the time. We try to encourage others to prepare, but we never use the word “prepping” in mixed company. Similarly, we’ve lowered our online profile by establishing aliases for prepping interests and adopting best-practices in identity protection.

    Most importantly, my son has showed me what love really means. If that sounds a little squishy for you cold operators out there, I’ll put it like this: Embrace the Suck. And nothing sucks more than love. In our family we no longer prep to survive, because in the end we can’t control that. We prep to love others. To be strong enough in hard times to set our sights higher than survival.

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