Learning to Breathe

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I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

Mark Twain

I worry way too much.

There have been times when this has been beneficial. When I first became a parent, it occurred to me I could walk into any room and instantly do a threat assessment. Any sharp edges, corners, or other physical hazards became instantly clear to my eyes. My caution and awareness has surely saved our children plenty of injury.

However, I spend a staggering amount of emotional energy on worrying What Might Go Wrong or What Would Happen If. The irony is that the handful of truly crappy events that have taken place in my life were out of the blue, so I was worrying about all the wrong stuff. Let me give you a specific example which resolved itself just today.

My family travels a lot, principally because the children are very accomplished fencers. This is starting to involve a lot of international travel, and recently I submitted my daughter’s passport for renewal. The person at the post office said that standard turnaround time was “4 to 6 weeks” but that expedited service, for an extra fee, would be “2 to 3 weeks.” I told her we wanted expedited, surrendered the passport to her, and went on my way. This was on December 20th.

The next day, something dawned on me. My daughter needed to leave for Europe on January 9th. That was 20 days from December 20th. At that point, my brain began to run through How Things Could Go Wrong. My nightmare scenario was simple: Christmas was a holiday, and New Year’s Day was a holiday, and then there is the government shutdown, so she would not get her passport back in time, and she (and accompanying family members) would not get to leave the country, and all the money expended on non-refundable travel would be wasted.

This would be a very bad scene. And I got more and more concerned about it. I kept debating with myself. Part of me assured myself that government estimates are always padded on the high side, and that I’d surely get the passport back in ample time. And the other part countered that I had cut things way too close, and it would have been better to spend the money on a service like RushMyPassport.com and be assured of no problems (I was not even aware such a service existed until I researched it after the fact).

So this damned issue hung over me like a cloud. I don’t tend to share my worries with other people, because it doesn’t do me a bit of good (indeed it causes me trouble, because they’ll just bug me about it and will be of no aid to the issue at hand). So I just drag around my own cross privately.

So I checked everything I could. I found out there was an email notification service from the State Department, so I signed up for that. And I got some relief from my incessant worry when I saw the check had cleared the bank and I also got notice that the form was being “processed”. But the same email said that there turnaround time was running “2 to 3 weeks”, so again my stomach was in knots about just awful a problem this was.

The Holy Grail

And let me pause right now to recognize what a First World Problem this is. I mean, for Christ’s sake, we’re talking about one of two trips to Europe in the SAME MONTH for a little girl to go to a fuckin’ fencing competition. I mean, it’s MEANINGLESS. But I take familial obligations seriously, and I was flagellating myself for not doing the absolute best job I possibly could to assure the desired outcome.

One the morning of December 28th, I got an email from the State Department that the passport printed and it was being sent out via 2-day mail. I would get it not only in time, but a full WEEK early. So instantly all my tension went away. All the mental torture, the hand-wringing, the postulating……….all for nothing. If I hadn’t given the entire subject one moment’s thought, the outcome would have been exactly the same: that is, a passport delivered well under the time promised.

And, psychopath that I am, my brain quickly then asked itself: What Should I Worry About Now? Because God forbid I should actually relax and take it easy.

So……….this boy’s got problems. Some might say to make it a New Year’s Resolution to not worry so much. But I don’t bother with such things. The best I can do is recognize just how screwed-up I am.

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