When I was home for the holidays, I had the luxury of walking to the park with my little brother. We were walking hand-in-hand, when I suddenly felt him tug me forward swiftly and without warning.
I looked down to his feet to gauge his direction, only to see that he was attempting to stride over the cracks in the sidewalk. Taking longer and longer strides, he stretched his short legs a little further each time.
Spanning the length of each concrete slab in the ground, he just barely stepped over the crease that separates every square in the sidewalk: the cracks.
I invested a lot of my childhood in avoiding the cracks. I jumped over blocks at a time, challenging myself to see just how far I could stretch my legs without becoming a victim to the cracks. Even now, I’ll catch myself avoiding cracks from time to time.
The cracks in the cement split our walkways with small cavities — a small space that breaks the consistency of the cement to hold nothing. While the literal denotation of crack refers to this “split,” the word crack also denotes, "a vulnerable point or flaw."
Watching my little brother engage in an activity I had entertained countless times made me consider the question objectively: Why are we afraid to step in the cracks? If not afraid, why do we avoid the cracks?
After all, we never truly believed doing so would break our mama’s back. I think it has to do with our fear of empty spaces.
From young ages, we avoided the empty because we were warned of the possibilities associated with the unknown.
1. We feel the need to drive conversations forward to avoid “awkward silences.” We punish the people in our lives with “the cold shoulder” because the absence of words has become an absence of meaning.
2. We use our GPS devices to locate exactly where we are going and how we will get there because no move can be unplanned — we do not dare travel into the unknown.
3. We must all know exactly what we want from life and actively work to achieve that end.
4. There is no room for “I don’t know” or “I am figuring it out” to linger, or you'll be left behind.
5. We buy things and we buy things and we buy more things because our things fill all the empty spaces in our lives.
6. Every person must be college-bound, and 18-year-old freshman must leave the limbo world of “undeclared” sooner than later.
7. We aren’t permitted to travel in empty spaces.
8. We are afraid to ask questions or admit we do not know something.
9. We are expected to pay car meters to the exact minute because we are not allowed to waste. We must plan every lunch meeting, every conversation and every step of every way.
10. We pace through cyberspace quickly. If a website or video buffers, we move on and forget that URL address like we have forgotten all the places we do not and will never know.
11. We know how every person from our hometowns, graduating high school classes and graduating college classes is doing. Their lives are mapped out in our newsfeeds, double-tapped by our fast swiping fingers and never allowed to occupy blank space in our minds.
12. We avoid social situations that make us feel awkward.
13. We pick up our phones to text someone when we are lonely because we can’t bear being alone with our thoughts.
14. We must know what time it is. It tracks our existences on numbered scales. Numbers prove quantity and quantity proves we are far from empty.
15. We always need closure. Every loose end must be perfectly tied because a sh*tty-ending is better than no ending at all. It's better than not knowing and having to grapple with the emptiness.
16. We don’t like eating alone.
17. We check-in places because we are there and we want to believe that’s different from being nowhere.
18. We pursue job security over passion out of fear of the unknown.
19. Our children are afraid of the dark.
20. We believe more writing means better writing because blank space on a page means that a person has said nothing.
21. We have one-night stands because we don’t want to sleep alone.
22. If someone in whom we're interested hasn't texted, we assume he or she isn't interested.
23. We put in our headphones to constantly hear music. The sound of nothingness has become unsettling.
24. We eat when we’re bored and upset. Consumption fills the emptiness.
25. We would rather avoid challenging tasks than face gaps in our knowledge.
26. We don’t drink our coffee black.
27. We keep toxic people in our lives because they fill empty plans and add numbers to our friend lists.
28. We have chronic “fear of missing out” because the trade-offs could mean we tip-toe alongside emptiness.
29. We turn our TVs on to fill an empty rooms, empty hours and empty minds.
30. We find silence suspicious.
31. Empty restaurants make us question a menu's quality.
32. We use Yelp to assess and plan every experience we before we allow ourselves to have them. We leave no room for unexpected results.
33. We pencil people into our calendars.
34. Our educators are expected to fill our classrooms with constant tangible work over undocumented conversations. Busy work is valued above thoughtful silence.
35. Production rates determine worth.
36. We think a cute outfit or good hair day is wasted if we don't have plans.
37. We are told to occupy crowded spaces, since empty places are more dangerous.
38. We place so much emphasis on our productivity levels. Procrastination is the mark of a poor work ethic.
39. Being single means being alone, and we associate solitude with a kind of emptiness.
40. Everyone is expected to “return the favor," so our actions have become void of sincerity.
41. We feel the need to categorize every person, place and idea we meet because having terminology to make sense of something means we can fit every aspect of our lives into a cubbyhole that would otherwise be empty.
42. It is impossible to divide by zero. We wouldn’t want to separate our parts into nothing anyway.
43. We feel the need to reach milestones that “prove” our stability: high school graduation, college graduation, landing a "good job," buying a car, engagement, marriage, a mortgage, kids — successful kids.
44. We work hours on end to have “something” in life.
45. We associate "unemployed" with "lazy."
46. We name our generic brands — nothing can go unnamed.
47. We take photographs to remember events.
48. We fear being forgotten.
49. We wear makeup.
50. The only gaps we want are the ones between our thighs.
51. We cut down our sleeping hours to accommodate more into our schedules.
52. We make small talk with strangers.
53. We are addicted to overeating so much that we have forgotten what being full truly feels like. Instead, we stuff past capacity.
54. We feel the need to make our relationships “official.”
55. We need marriage licenses and the titles that come with it.
56. We say someone who doesn’t have a job and isn’t going to school is, “doing nothing with his or her life.”
57. We are advised to always walk with a buddy at night.
58. We buy multiples.
59. We think shyness is something that must be grown out of.
60. We are always filling our carts, stomachs, wishlists, bank accounts and inboxes.
61. We believe we cannot be with someone if we have “nothing in common.”
62. We use alcohol to forget about the emptiness we face.
63. We teach our kids to color in empty spaces.
64. We ask strangers, “What do you do?”
65. We use dating-apps to find our matches so we don’t have to face the risk of publicly expressing our interests and receiving nothing in return.
66. We buy people meaningless gifts to avoid having nothing to give.
67. We create art to fill blank spaces.
68. We share our alone time with our followers.
69. Everything comes in a variety of flavors. Even nothingness is labeled, “original” flavor.
70. We compare ourselves with those around us because not doing so would mean we’d have to sometimes be okay with having no frame of reference for ourselves. We’d rather be placed on a harsh scale of judgment than occupy no scale at all.
71. We pack our schedules with activities and responsibilities to distinguish ourselves from those who do “nothing.”
72. We are fashionably late to parties in order to avoid facing empty rooms.
73. We do everything we do for specific ends or returns. When we do not get what was expected, we feel we have done “all of that for nothing.”
74. We fill our homes and public spaces with mirrors to avoid not knowing what we look like.
75. We stay in unhealthy relationships to avoid being alone.
76. We make sure we never show up empty-handed to events.
77. We hate when others have “nothing to say” in response to our statements.
78. We are marked by ages, addresses, social security numbers and phone numbers.
79. We are more afraid of what is not said than what is said.
80. We have lost sight of the valuable experience that is being lost.
We can write our sidewalk-crack avoidance off as a silly game, but we cannot deny that this kind of avoidance spans across our lives in more ways than how we go about walking on sidewalks.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines emptiness as,
We have become obsessed with filling our lives in every way possible because we have come to believe that emptiness in our lives means we are empty people.
So, we fill and we fill and we fill until we are full of meaningless words, relationships, items and emotions.
We believe being full is better than being empty. And, when we can’t find anything with which to fill ourselves, we avoid the cracks in life that hold emptiness and say we are doing so with meaningful purpose:
We don’t want to break our mama’s back.