I have always been a worrier.
As far back as I can remember, I was always concerned that some disaster, some catastrophe, some horrific incident would occur and rip my world to shreds. Accidents, plagues, murder attempts, my mind is a non-stop Hitchcock movie.
I probably inherited this trait from my dear mother, who, while physically small, was the heavyweight champion of the heebie jeebies. If we stayed out late without calling, she’d get all upset and say “I thought you were dead in an alley someplace!”
I was always tempted to ask her why we ended up an in alley and not some other location, but I didn’t want to press my luck.
In addition to heredity, I also had to endure the toxic freak festival of Catholic school, which pumped out enough angst to light up the Las Vegas strip for a thousand years, so it’s no wonder I’m a hopeless hand wringer.
If I could conjure up stock tips the way I churn out worries I’d be lighting up my cigars with $100 bills. And I don't even smoke.
My father picked up on my worrisome ways when I was a little kid and he did his best to break me of this habit.
“I’m going to get you a worry bird,” he once told me.
The worry bird, he explained, plants himself on his perch and listens as you tell him all your problems. Then he’ll sit there all day and do all the worrying for you while you go out and join the rest of humanity.
My father was natural salesman and an Irishman to boot, so his ability to spin incredible tales—also known as “lies”—was quite impressive.
In fact, he told the worry bird story with such gusto that I actually pictured a fine feathered fanatic slapping a wing to the side of his head and cawing “oy vey is meir!”
Unfortunately, the worry bird only existed in my father’s imagination and my apprehensive abilities have only increased over the years.
“You look for things to worry about,” he once said. And how right he was.
Birds of a Feather
This problem really came into focus while I was vacationing in California this summer. My uncle, his wife, and I were heading back to L.A. after a visit to San Diego and we stopped at the Hotel Del Coronado, a fantastic old resort, where Billy Wilder’s comic classic “Some Like It Hot” was filmed.
My sister had just started her own vacation, flying out of Brooklyn that morning for Vancouver.
I’ve made no secret of my fear of flying, but I also get nervous when my loved ones get on a plane. I am always extremely relieved when I get that phone call telling me they have safely arrived at their destination.
So while I was standing in the lobby of this grand old hotel I checked the time, did the math, and calculated that my sister’s plane should have landed.
So where was my phone call?
I’m sure everything’s all right, I told myself, which is what I say when I’m convinced everything is terribly wrong. She’s probably getting her luggage or settling in at the hotel.
As the time went by I could feel the tension rising in the back of my mind. I could’ve used a whole flock of worry birds, but all I saw were seagulls. Oy vey is meir..
Finally my aunt called me to say my sister had arrived and all was well.
Great, I thought, now you can relax.
And then I paused as the harsh truth rang through my head.
Until the next time…
I think I associate worry with control, telling myself that if I agonize over something hard enough then I will somehow prevent it from happening. It’s perfectly ridiculous, of course, but it also seems to be entirely incurable.
Constant worry prevents you from enjoying life and it can keep you from taking action. Instead actually doing something about a problem, you sit on your perch and just worry about it.
And it’s also stressful, which is bad for your health, and that’s one thing I want to avoid. I don’t want to end up dead in an alley someplace—or anywhere else.