Saturday, August 01, 2009

Hanging on...

In the days when I used to cross-stitch on a regular basis, I cross-stitched this pattern of a raccoon. We hung it in the parsonage where we could see it every day. One day, Ed mentioned to me how lazy he thought the raccoon looked, laid back, just lying around on the tree branch, without a care in the world. I was astonished, actually, because I had always thought the poor raccoon was hanging on for dear life, stressed to the max, trying not to fall to a certain and painful death!

Besides our different takes on life (Ed is more tranquil, I’m more type A), this conversation really impressed upon me that handling anxiety is one of my weaknesses. When we went to AA decades ago, their mantra of “Let Go and Let God” irked me. Let go? Are you nuts? Do you know how much of a fall that would be if I let go of this branch to which I’m clinging with all my might? No, thanks!

As a child, I had few worries, just the usual anxiety about going to the doctor or dentist, getting a shot, that sort of thing. Later in school I was anxious about making good grades, pleasing my teachers, fitting in, etc. After I got married, I worried about money among other things, and when Ed was drinking, I had stresses coming and going.

When I had kids, of course, the anxiety increased exponentially at an alarming rate. (I can guarantee that when you have kids, you have just presented yourself with a lifetime of anxiety.) Now I had two more human beings to worry about - accidents, psychological health, physical health, whether they had enough friends, whether they were eating right, even kidnapping by strangers. Then when they started school, I was experiencing the same anxieties for them that I had put upon myself at their ages. And on and on...

Until, yes, they learned to drive. Major, major parent stressor. Not only did I worry about the possibility of wrecks, I had to worry about where they were, with whom, what they were doing. Later on, it was worrying about college tuition on top of all the other stuff. Next, came marriage. I thankfully never worried about the mates they chose, as I think both my son-in-law and daughter-in-law are super people. But there is always financial anxiety - are they doing OK? Are they making good decisions? Are they surviving the normal pitfalls and stresses of married life?

Then Rachel had kids, and Matt may be following in a year or two...

That’s right. The stress and anxiety is never-ending. I’ve heard people say, “I know I need to make a change, but now is not the time. There’s too much on my plate.” Well, even if one’s schedule deflates somewhat, there will always be stress because so much of it is self-inflicted - and in our heads, where we don’t always notice it - that overpowering, paralyzing worry. It is possible to not have anything appointments or to-do lists penciled in on the calendar, and still spend the day stressed because of what it going on in one’s brain. The need for relaxation and replenishment is not just limited to the physical realm.

I also heard once that 99% of the things we worry about never come to pass. Now if you can keep me from worrying about that 1%, that would be great. Thanks.

I think “letting go,” - of past mistakes, future worries, and present problems; of greed, thoughts of revenge, malice; of the need for excessive material things, popularity, acclaim; of all the “what ifs” - is one of the hardest things in life to do. It’s scary, it’s accepting vulnerability, it’s fear of the unknown. I also think a lot of these worries boil down to this: Am I strong enough/are my parents strong enough/is my husband strong enough/are my kids strong enough to handle life’s challenges? Again, my favorite prayer: To change the things I can, accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Just a few words that pack a major punch.

I still have the raccoon picture, but these days I try to interpret his quality of life a little differently. I try to use him not as a symbol of hanging on for dear life, but as a reminder that life is indeed dear - and having faith that I will grow in wisdom and patience and courage and all the other attributes that make up my response to life, which will allow me to react to circumstances and change in a healthy way. "Letting go" is that first step on the Journey to Simplicity and Contentment, and, like so many other decisions, is a choice that has to be renewed on a daily basis.

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