I have here a letter from Keisha, in Port Charlotte, Florida. Keisha is 14 years old, and very worried about Florida’s recent spike in coronavirus cases. Keisha says she’s nearly sick about it.
Florida’s numbers are through the roof. She says she got so concerned that she just had to write me. Which only shows you how badly her judgement has been impaired.
Keisha, while I write this, I hear ambulance sirens are whining down the street. And I am thinking about my mother because sirens used to make her VERY worried. She hates sirens. When she hears them she calls everyone she knows to make sure they’re okay.
My wife worries about sirens worse than my mother. And my mother-in-law takes the cake. When my mother-in-law hears an ambulance, she calls the hospitals and local funeral homes.
These women have become so worrisome that whenever I hear sirens in the distance, no matter where I am, I wait for my phone to ring. And it always does.
“Are you okay?” the voice on the other end of the line says.
“I’m fine,” I’ll answer.
“I heard an ambulance.”
“I almost called the emergency room.”
I should admit right away that I am a worrier, too. I’m not proud of this, but you can’t change who you are. There are some traits you inherit. And I have inherited the ability to watch the ten o’clock news and have a panic attack.
Throughout my life, I have worried about the stupidest things because it’s in my nature. I worry, for example, that this little bite on my leg is actually a brown recluse bite. I worry about my transmission. I worry about poison ivy.
I have lost sleep over poison ivy. In fact, I don’t even want to be writing these sentences because I am deathly allergic to the stuff.
A few years ago, I was at a friend’s birthday party and someone’s pet chicken was walking around the backyard. I thought this chicken was great, he was so gentle and well-behaved. He jumped right in my lap and I was holding him under my arm all night.
His owner, an old woman named Marge, said, “I see you’ve met Mickey, isn’t he great? He eats all the poison ivy in my backyard.”
I calmly put the chicken down. I asked my friend if I could use their bathroom. There in the restroom, I stripped off my clothes and scrubbed my body with a wire brush until I was bleeding.
I could hear party guests gathered outside the bathroom door whispering things to each other like: “Marge said he was holding the chicken.”
Also, I have worried about money a lot. That’s always a big worry. How can a simple bank account do so much damage to the human psyche? It’s just a number. But it affects you. When your account is a good number, you feel great. But when the numbers go down—even just by a few digits—you feel like fertilizer.
You will worry throughout each stage of your life. When you’re younger, you worry about your job, about promotions, or about romantic relationships.
When you’re a parent, you’ll worry that you won’t be able to put clothes on your kids’ backs, or send them to college. Shoot, even college kids face more worries now than ever before in history. They worry about their futures, their grades, their safety, and the very real threat of running out of beer.
And now we worry about the coronavirus.
But one of my favorite stories about worry involves my father, who was maybe the most worrisome person to ever live except for maybe Don Knotts.
I remember one time when I was a kid, my father was driving along and it was a sunny day, and my father’s truck was missing its windshield wipers.
It wasn’t raining, keep in mind, and it didn’t even LOOK like it was going to rain, but he had no wipers. And he was worried because the forecast said there was a slight chance of showers.
It was a Sunday, no autoparts shops were open. So my father pulled over and rooted around in his toolbox for some autobody wax. Then he waxed his windshield.
“What on earth are you doing?” said my mother.
My father said he’d heard that waxing a windshield in wiper-emergencies made water roll right off the glass. He was smearing this stuff on the window like he was making a peanut butter sandwich.
My father drove home that afternoon, and—wouldn’t you know it?—it never rained. Pretty soon, he forgot all about the windshield wax. Eventually, he got a new pair of wiper blades and that was that.
Then, one day after he picked me up from baseball practice, we were on our way home, and it started to downpour. The sky opened up, so he flipped on his wipers and the blades started smearing caked up wax on the windshield.
Soon, his window was covered in a gray sludge that looked like unfiltered bacon grease and he couldn’t see where he was going. He crashed right into a fence post.
It wasn’t a serious accident, nobody was hurt, thank God. But my father sat there shaking his head, realizing that his own worry had landed him in the ditch. Because, you see, that is what worry does.
There’s a valuable lesson in all this somewhere, Keisha, but frankly I just don’t know what it is. So when you figure it out, share it with me. Because right now, I have to call a few local hospitals.
I heard sirens.
Whatever you do, don’t worry, darling.