As long as I live I’ll never forget the question he asked me.
I don’t remember where we were—probably on our living room sofa. I do all of my best worrying on that sofa. In any case, the details of the scene escape me because I was too panicked, too in my head, to really recall anything other than my thoughts and his face.
His face, loving me, even in the depths of my insanity.
I don’t even remember what I was worried about. The thoughts aren’t clear to me now, almost a year later, but I do remember the feeling. The tightness in my chest. The inability to breathe properly. The pressure at the back of my eyes that meant tears were on the way. I remember being headed for a full-scale panic-attack mental-breakdown.
“Is there anything you can do, right now, to change anything?”
With one question the world stopped spinning, just for a moment, as I fell down a dark hole. Even as I wanted to scream at him, grab the sides of his face and shake until my nails dug into his soft cheeks “Yes! Yes, you idiot. There has to be something; something I can do or fix or figure out or understand or control! HOW DARE YOU ASK ME SUCH A RIDICULOUS QUESTION!” I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move, or think, or breathe because I already knew the real answer.
Whatever crisis (real or imaginary) I had used to get myself into such a disastrous and apocalyptic state was entirely, 100%, outside of my power to do anything to change at 7 pm on a summer Sunday evening in southern California.
I am not an entirely unreasonable person, so I forced myself to take a deep breath, then another, then another.
“No,” I said finally. “There isn’t.”
“So do you think you can just not worry about it right now?”
Try. What a killer word. The second anyone says “I’ll try” you can bet your ass they are thinking “Try not to murder you while I sit here in tortured silence.” Even as I no longer gave voice to my panic, it was still there lurking below the surface; like a stress zit. I did not succeed, nor did I try very hard, but regardless I would soon learn that his question had changed me forever.
Somewhere over the course of my life, I became a worrier. When I’m single I worry that I’ll never have a relationship. When I get into a relationship I worry that it will end. I worry about death. I worry about money. I worry about my future, my career, my family, my friends, myself. I sit and I worry and I think and I puzzle because there has to be something, somewhere, some kind of clue or knowledge or thing that I can do to make absolutely certain that everything will be alright.
The idea that there was nothing I could do at that moment was completely foreign to the way I had been living my life. In my world, there was always something you could do, and if you didn’t know what that thing was, you just hadn’t figured it out yet. Action. Thought. Planning. Execution. Educated fear.
From that moment on I began a new practice of just not worrying about stuff. I had to start small, of course. Let’s practice not worrying about what I’m going to make for dinner. Let’s practice not worrying about the fact that I still don’t have any jeans that fit me. Let’s practice not worrying that the dog isn’t getting enough protein, or whatever.
As I began to practice the simple not-worrying game, I began to realize something. True, there may always be something you can figure out to fix a problem or ease a worry…but does that necessarily mean that you have to do something? Maybe the best thing to do is just to let it be for a little while. Sleep on it, as they say.
Jonathan Safran Foer has said, “I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.” The first time I read that quote I literally laughed out loud. It’s really, really true. For all of my thinking, worrying, planning, imagining, strategizing, and trying, the only thing that has truly brought me any kind of peace of mind is simply letting it all go and trusting that somehow, some way, everything is going to be all right.
How is it?
I don’t know, it’s a mystery.
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