Or is it Wort?
I don’t know – a wort to me is a sort of plant, perhaps a straggly plant, or something like St. John’s Wort. Maybe that’s why St. John’s Wort is used to make people feel better – the worrywarts for instance. But let’s get down to brass tacks here.
Are you a worrywart? Do you see a snowflake and predict the end of the known world and the onset of a new ice age? Or do you just flick off the concerns of life as if they were a sprinkling of rainfall on a summer’s day? Personally, I think inside the latter there is someone who was raised by the former and is trying desperately to hang onto a thread of balance. Worrying, to me, is like so much unsafe ballast on a ship – it can turn you over into the surf of crazy in a heartbeat. I know this, because I was raised by a first class worrywart – and she’ll be on the ‘phone to me within, oh, about three seconds of reading this post.
My mother worries about everything. She is known to call and ask, “Is there anything for me to worry about?” “Yep, only if you can fix the darn leaky tap in the bathroom from 6500 miles and eight times zones away,” I have been known to answer. Her antennae are always set to high alert and you could say it’s a family trait – call it siege mentality. I’ve tried to fight this all my life, but every now and again I feel my heartbeat quicken when something is about to go wrong (a question - might it not have gone wrong had I not reacted before the perceived event, trying to stop it?).
Thankfully, I think I’m more like my Dad – he was a laid back kind of guy, and even on those occasions when he wasn’t, he’d let you think that nothing was going to ruffle his feathers. As many of you know, he passed away in 2012, following a short but difficult illness, a rare blood disorder (and one which is either becoming more common, or doctors are getting better at identifying, because I’m hearing about it a lot now). I remember, at each meeting with his hematologist, upon being asked how he was doing, Dad would say, “I feel fine. No worries.” Meanwhile, his red blood platelets had plummeted again, my mother was worrying herself into a frenzy and I was trying to keep really, really cool while fighting the demon inside. It was only just before he died that Dad finally admitted, “Well, I don’t feel 100%.” That was a time to worry. That was when I told my brother to get on a ‘plane home to England NOW, " … and don’t think you can get away with stand-by on a buddy pass either!" I added, for good measure, worrying that he might call his pal who works for United.
This worry thing runs through my extended family, along with that siege mentality. It’s an “All for one, and one for all” collective emotion. It was during my book tour a couple of years ago that I learned exactly how ill my father was, so I made the immediate decision to cut short the book tour and return to the UK - as many of you know. I was in Boston, just two events away from flying home (and a little fried, I confess) when my cousin called on my cellphone. “Jackie,” he said. “Just tell me – how much do I need to worry?” I rolled my eyes and wound up like a coiled rattlesnake. I was trying to keep it all together for just two more days, and I knew this conversation was about to undo me. There’s nothing to get a latent worrywart going more than another of the same ilk worrying in their midst. I could feel this balloon of concern just getting bigger and bigger inside me. My cousin had just lost his beloved sister to another dreadful blood disorder, so you couldn’t blame him – couldn’t blame any of us – for being on edge, but I remember saying a bit snappily, “It’s nothing for you to worry about – everything’s under control.” What I really wanted to say was “Worry like crazy because the world is caving in .…”
My brother shows no worry at all. Personally, I think he’s like a swan in the lake – paddling for all he’s worth under the water, while giving the impression of absolute serenity. “Nothing to worry me, Jack,” he says, when I ask how he’s doing. That’s years of deflecting the concerns – real and imagined – of my mother. OK, and me too. When she asks “How’s your brother?” I always say, “Oh he’s fine, I’m sure,” while I’m thinking, “Heck, I haven’t spoken to him for weeks – I wonder if he’s OK?” Then I go on to thinking, “Is no news good news? Or is no news a sign that we’re in really big trouble?”
I once bought my mother a small handbook about things to get really worried about – it was a jokey book with all manner of cataclysmic events that could befall anyone. Earthquakes. Floods. Famine. War. And then I remembered something from my childhood. We were in our local town – more of a village, really. I was about five and my brother still in his pram, so he was probably a year old. The town had an old wartime air-raid siren that was used as an alarm to alert the mostly volunteer fire brigade. We were walking down the street when the alarm sounded, and before I knew it, my mother had gathered us up and we were cowering in a doorway next to the post office. Her pallor had turned sheet-white, and I remember saying. “It’s alright, Mummy. There aren’t any bombs. It’s only a fire somewhere.” She came to womanhood in London during the war, you see, and knew what it was to be bombed out of her home - and I was well aware of her fears even then.
So, I try to remember that now – that perhaps many of our worrywarts have good reason to be so, and it all started somewhere. Mind you, it could have been our house on fire that day, so we went straight home, just in case.
OK, Mum, now you can call me – and don’t worry, everything is just fine. You know it is … really, truly, honestly.