My mother was the queen of worry. It was her daily bread, her calling, her nature.
If there was a summer thunderstorm, she soon had our family, except my father, who I believe she often wished WOULD sail away, heading down into the cellar. If we were going to the Fourth of July Parade, we had to be in a back row, as the horses might stampede, and when we watched the fireworks it had to be at a safe distance, like several miles. For me, the fireworks looked more like those sparklers kids lit and lofted up to the collective oohs of their friends -- of course I have never held a sparkler. I also never climbed trees, went past the railroad tracks, or came in after the street lights went on. If I did, I was assured mother would be holding vigil at the front door. Her silent stare was capable of felling a buffalo at a hundred paces.
Unfortunately, I am also a worrier. When my wife told my son he could ride his bike into Sag Harbor on his own, I was the one who snuck out and trailed him all the way into town. When Justin was being taught how to dive deep into the fresh cooling waters of the Schoharie Creek, I would hold my breath until he came up for air, or dive and dive until I could see his murky paddling feet. And as for sickness, I was aware of every bug he or we might catch in a five state area. If I told myself not to worry, it was like having a mosquito bite and trying not to itch it -- I never lasted long. I still am a worrier, but no longer a hopelessly paralyzed one.
Worry is of course intimately related to fear, and fear can be quite real. Fear can also be a fabrication, or the result of our perfectionism or lack of control, or simply the choice to conjure up some kind of devastating scenario for no apparent reason. I could literally worry myself sick by dwelling on a fear, stirring it into a whirlwind, and projecting out to some crazy absurd certain future doom. Fear can consume us, freeze our feet in place, or spin us around until we throw-up. Fear is expecting the worst. Fear is meant to caution us, to warn us, to make us alert. For the chronic worrier, fear is simply Life’s background noise, whining into our ears all day long.
Worry is good buddies with anxiety, as anxiety is fear without an object, or better put, the fear of anything and everything. Anxiety is looking up to the sky for the next bomb to drop. Anxiety is getting ready for failure or flops or embarrassment or being found out to be a complete loser. Bottom line, anxiety is our spiritual way of knocking ourselves off the pedestal. Sadly, many of us also need to stomp on ourselves once we hit the ground. We need to pummel ourselves into submission – into the belief that we deserve our pain or punishment, This may defy all or any reason, and be completely absurd, but held with a deep and passionate and taffy like conviction.
When it comes to worry, fear, and anxiety, we all suffer to varying degrees. For some it can be momentary, for some it may last days, and for others of us, like myself, we may go through periods which can last months. Some sad folks have no respite, this queasy worried sick state is their daily norm. I have never found any sure solution, nor fool proof means of dispelling my fears, but I have discovered a few strategies which do seem to help, and alleviate the paralysis so that I can at least function.
First and foremost, I try to have a little faith. Faith is expecting the best, and faith in the Grace of God is a belief that this too shall pass. I try to increase time spent in meditation and prayer, which is a good balance to worrying’s dwelling, and I read devotional material which is not sappy or sentimental, but offers some inspirational courage. It is faith which also leads me to get my mind off of myself, and to find solace in service. If I try to make someone else’s day, it always lifts the fear fog at least a bit, enough to be able to at least see.
I also work on looking at the big picture. Taking my fear and trying to put it into perspective. This is also good for my attitude, and enabling me not to play the victim, or deciding that God has singled me out for cruel and unusual punishment. I am most sincere when I say that imaging the millions of children on our planet in search of food and shelter, does reduce the dimensions of my worries. Don’t get me wrong, there is no magic finger snap to vaporize my worry or fear, but the big picture does often offer some comfort and hope.
Beauty and exercise are my favorite tricks, as both have an uncanny ability to restore my spirits. Taking a long walk with my camera and looking for loveliness is a passion which can provide me with a belief in the rightness of Life, and God’s role as the Creator of it. Accepting, even if for a few minutes, that God is truly in charge, can cleanse my being of the sticky grime of worry, and remove the worry rash on my soul which threatens to wreck my whole day. Remember, I am looking for relief, not cures.
Worry is soul pain. It is the suffering of the human spirit in face of Life’s lack of predictability, and the reality that tragedy can and does strike at a moment’s notice, without warning, and with raw brutality at times. Life is difficult. Life can be a grueling ordeal. There is much to fear and worry about. However, we also have resources to keep us healthy, hopeful, and even happy. The key is to make the choice to use those resources, and wage war on worry now and then, Beat it back, Give it a good kick in the pants. Maybe even sign a truce. Maybe wave the white flag of surrender. Do what it takes to take back your power, and your spiritual power is to be alive, fully and honestly and responsibly awake.
Or, you could do what my grandmother Othilia advised, “Quit worrying, you’re not that important!” She also frequently said, “Don’t worry about what others think of you, because they don’t!” Wise lady.