There’s a lot to worry about. We are worried our investment dollars may not poof back into existence when they poof out. We worry about inflation and that gas prices are too high, or about deflation and that they will go too low. Writers worry that our stuff will not be good enough, or read enough, or we will have “writer’s block” and not write enough, or will write too much and have to cut … and (yikes!) what if we cut the wrong stuff? We worry that agents or editors won’t love us or, if we are fortunate enough to have a success, we panic that the next project won’t be as good.
Pick a subject; we can worry about it. Everyone, except possibly the enlightened Dalai Lama, worries about something, more likely a lot of things. Worrying must have had some evolutionary value. If we never worried about having stuff in lean times, we wouldn’t have invented grocery stores…or shopping. We plan in response to worry. If junior is smart, how are we going to pay for college? Better start saving early. If junior isn’t smart, we may have to feed him well into his adult life. Better start saving early. Some worrying (that leads to planning) is therefore good. Excess worrying, however, causes stress, and stress is linked to everything from headaches to premature death. Early man worried about placating emotionally unstable gods and spirits that rocked the world with floods, drought, earthquakes and fire from heaven. They must have worried incessantly about what they could do about it until they invented shamans to tell them exactly when, where and how much stuff to offer up. Of course, we are way beyond that now. I think it’s been days since I knocked on wood to keep from irritating the gods about something I said.
My 4’ 10” grandmother was a Professional Worrier. She was pretty much undiscriminating about the subject matter, but as I entered my teens, she worried in particular that my hair was not stylish, my cheeks were too pale, and my skirts were too long to catch a boy’s eye. She worried I would not marry a doctor and that some illness or accident was bound to befall me, probably at the worst time, (i.e., before I got married). Most of all, she believed I was oblivious about the importance of these things and so, she carried the burden of worrying about them on her own tiny shoulders.
On one family outing, we watched my grandfather puttering around the lake in a small boat. Grandma’s palms were plastered to her cheeks for the entire thirty minutes he’d been having fun. She sighed, “I’m so worried about him.” She and I were standing on the bank; Grandpa was several hundred feet away. Grandma’s concern was always an expression of her love, not something to question, but that day I turned to her and asked, “Why, Grandma? Why are you worried? What good does that do?” “Because,” she responded with a look of disbelieve at my ignorance—“You never know!” You never know. True. Something could happen. Anything could happen. And then with a flash of understanding, I got it: Worrying is magic. If you’ve worried about something, you’ve tipped the scales of fate, you’ve appeased the gods; you’ve knocked on wood. That’s why when you say, such and such could happen, you add a “God forbid” to the end of it. Grandma’s strategy was that you should do preventive worrying to keep something bad from happening. And if you weren’t diligent and hadn’t covered all the bases, something you hadn’t even thought about was sure to sneak up on you … and (God forbid) happen.
The Dahlia Llama sees all this in a very different light. He says that if there is a solution to a problem, there is no need to worry. And if there is no solution … there is no need to worry. I, being my grandmother’s descendant, have developed my own, somewhat less enlightened, but workable, strategy: Refocus your worries. I like to worry about exactly how I am going to spend all that money should I win a lottery. You have no idea all the problems such a responsibility raises. And speaking of responsibility, we could worry about starving people in Africa a little more often than when we are admonishing children to eat what’s on their plate. We could worry about the polar bear’s diminishing habitat and our chances for surviving on a planet whose thermostat has gone whacko. But even responsible worrying can become stressful. When the You-Never-Knows of everyday life start to tangle my mind, I refocus on the scientific proclamation that our Universe is possibly a random bubble among many, and it could pop at any moment and annihilate the whole thing. Now, there is something to worry about!
T.K. Thorne is a retired police captain (Birmingham, Alabama), director of City Action Partnership, and an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction.