For those of us old enough, What? Me Worry? might bring back memories of Mad magazine, the satirical magazine launched in the 50’s that poked fun at everything around us. A sort of Saturday Night Live for us kids of the 50’s, the magazine continued along, jabbing and snickering at life for many decades. Five-hundred plus editions later, it lives, along with its ageless mascot, the indubitable Alfred E. Newman. That goofy faced-guy represented the ultimate in carefree life attitudes. Since carefree was not a state to which I was even vaguely familiar as a child, I couldn’t relate.
Actually I couldn’t really relate to much of the magazine, but I loved it anyway. I didn’t understand it but felt too vulnerable to ask anybody about it. It seemed, in a 50’s kind of way, strangely counter-cultural, the direction in which to lean, in order to be cool.
I associate Mad magazine with my lunch times during grade school. At the noon lunch bell, I would gather my things and walk the block from my grade school, John Jay Audubon #42, to my dad’s grocery store, to have lunch. I had the same monogamous lunch day after day; a sliced chicken roll sandwich put together by my dad, slathered which mayonnaise and love, on a fresh poppy seed hard roll. I would sit on the magazine ledge and eat, nibbling around the waxed paper upon which the sandwich precariously balanced, careful to not disrupt or spill upon the True Crime magazines—oh, they frightened me!—upon which I sat. I ate while perusing Mad. My parents were working in the store, always and forever working in the store, the Colfax Market, on the corner of Colfax and Linden Streets. That place that I loved and hated—that place was home.
What? Me Worry?, Alfred’s motto, confused me the most. Although I didn’t know the concept “worry”, I certainly knew that bad things could happen at any minute and usually did. (Welcome to my childhood. Stick with me here. There is a positive point in all this.) My role, inside my head was to prevent bad things from happening. It was, suffice to say, both an exhausting and ineffective life strategy.
Here is a bulleted list of my childhood worries and their eventual outcome:
- My dad, who had his first heart attack when I was in fourth grade, was going to die any day. This was my family’s silent contract, the air we breathed. Outcome? He lived to be 84 years of age. I was 52 at the time of his death.
- I had a pretty severe stutter. Talking in any way—answering the phone, reading aloud in class—all were beyond-painful and terrifying. Outcome? My work is my voice, spoken and written, my capacity to speak to people’s hearts the blessing I’ve been given.
- I wanted to kiss girls, especially Natalie Wood, with whom I was monogamous and fully committed until the next decade, when Mary Travers from Peter, Paul and Mary, stole my heart. (Like with food, serial monogamy in my active fantasy life helped me to feel safer.) This “longing” for girls was a life-threatening and terrifying secret. Worrying about people finding out drove me away from life and into hiding. Outcome? I’m legally and happily married to a girl—yes, she is a girl, we both are, older girls now, for sure, clicking down the decades of life together, it appears.
My point here is this—Alfred E. Newman was right! What? Me worry? Why bother? Look at the eventual outcome of these deeply traumatic, life-defining issues. How ridiculous and ironic and fully pointless it is to worry. Life works out. I know this. I believe this. And I still slide into my default of worrying.
Here’s the reminder: life is in charge. No matter how It unfolds (whatever the It might be), there isn’t much I can do to prevent it. The more relaxed I allow myself to be in my life as a participant, not as the director of All, the more I breathe and relax and just simply lean toward allowing the moment to be as it is—it unfolds with more ease and surely more grace. And life is so very much easier that way.
I could (but I won’t) make a list of worries about the future, ranging from how to sanely pack for next week’s vacation and/or how to age and die with dignity and grace. But if my childhood list of three trauma/worries evolved with such grace, why wouldn’t my future worries also be lightened and taken from me?
JUST FOR TODAY, I choose to relax. I choose to breathe. I choose to let life be as it is. I choose to practice putting the smokescreen of worry to the side so I can be right here, right now. This moment is truly all that is real.