Of how many persons can it truthfully be said they never worry, they are perfectly happy, contented, serene? It would be interesting if each of my readers were to recall his acquaintances and friends, think over their condition in this regard, and then report to me the result. What a budget of worried persons I should have to catalogue, and alas, I am afraid, how few of the serene would there be named. When John Burroughs wrote his immortal poem, Waiting, he struck a deeper note than he dreamed of, and the reason it made so tremendous an impression upon the English-speaking world was that it was a new note to them. It opened up a vision they had not before contemplated. Let me quote it here in full: Serene I fold my hands and wait, Nor care for wind, or tide or sea; I rave no more 'gainst time or fate, For lo! my own shall come to me.
I stay my haste, I make delays, For what avails this eager pace? I stand amid the eternal ways, And what is mine shall know my face.
Asleep, awake, by night or day, The friends I seek are seeking me, No wind can drive my bark astray, Nor change the tide of destiny.
What matter if I stand alone? I wait with joy the coming years; My heart shall reap where it has sown, And garner up its fruit of tears.
The waters know their own and draw The brook that springs in yonder height, So flows the good with equal law Unto the soul of pure delight.
The stars come nightly to the sky; The tidal wave unto the sea; Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high Can keep my own away from me.
I have been wonderfully struck by the fact that in studying the Upanishads, and other sacred books of the East, there is practically no reference to the kind of worry that is the bane and curse of our Occidental world. In conversation with the learned men of the Orient I find this same delightful fact. Indeed they have no word in their languages to express our idea of fretful worry. Worry is a purely Western product, the outgrowth of our materialism, our eager striving after place and position, power and wealth, our determination to be housed, clothed, and jeweled as well as our neighbors, and a little better if possible; in fact, it comes from our failure to know that life is spiritual not material; that all these outward things are the mere "passing show," the tinsel, the gawds, the tissue-paper, the blue and red lights of the theater, the painted scenery, the mock heroes and heroines of the stage, rather than the real settings of the real life of real men and women. What does the inventor, who knows that his invention will help his fellows, care about the newest dance, or the latest style in ties, gloves or shoes; what does the woman whose heart and brain are completely engaged in relieving suffering care if she is not familiar with the latest novel, or the latest fashions in flounced pantalettes? Life is real, life is earnest, and this does not mean unduly solemn and somber, but that it deals with the real things rather than the paperflower shows of the stage and the imaginary things of so-called society.
It is the fashion of our active, aggressive, material, Occidental civilization to sneer and scoff at the quiet, passive, and less material civilization of the Orient.
We despise—that is, the unthinking majority do—the studious, contemplative Oriental. We believe in being "up and doing." But in this one particular of worry we have much to learn from the Oriental. If happiness and a large content be a laudable aim of life how far are we—the occidental world—succeeding in attaining it? Few there be who are content, and, as I have already suggested few there be who are free from worry. On the other hand while active happiness may be somewhat scarce in India, a large content is not uncommon, and worry, as we Westerners understand it, is almost unknown. Hence we need to find the happy mean between the material activity of our own civilization, and the mental passivity of that of the Orientals. Therein will be found the calm serenity of an active mind, the reasonable acceptance of things as they are because we know they are good, the restfulness that comes from the assurance that "all things work together for Good to them that love God." That worry is a curse no intelligent observer of life will deny. It has hindered millions from progressing, and never benefited a soul. It occupies the mind with that which is injurious and thus keeps out the things that might benefit and bless.
It is an active and real manifestation of the fable of the man who placed the frozen asp in his bosom. As he warmed it back to life the reptile turned and fatally bit his benefactor. Worry is as a dangerous, injurious book, the reading of which not only takes up the time that might have been spent in reading a good, instructive, and helpful book, but, at the same time, poisons the mind of the reader, corrupts his soul with evil images, and sets his feet on the pathway to destruction.
Why is it that creatures endowed with reason distress themselves and everyone around them by worrying? It might seem reasonable for the wild creatures of the wood—animals without reason—to worry as to how they should secure their food, and live safely with wilder animals and men seeking their blood and hunting them; but that men and women, endued with the power of thought, capable of seeing the why and wherefore of things, should worry, is one of the strange and peculiar evidences that our so-called civilization is not all that it ought to be. The wild Indian of the desert, forest, or canyon seldom, if ever, worries. He is too great a natural philosopher to be engaged in so foolish and unnecessary a business. He has a better practical system of life than has his white and civilized (!) brother who worries, for he says: Change what can be changed; bear the unchangeable without a murmur. With this philosophy he braves the wind and the rain, the sand, and the storm, the extremes of heat and cold, the plethora of a good harvest or the famine of a drought. If he complains it is within himself; and if he whines and whimpers no one ever hears him. His face may become a little more stern under the higher pressure; he may tighten his waist belt a hole or two to stifle the complaints of his empty stomach, but his voice loses no note of its cheeriness and his smile none of its sweet serenity.
Why should the rude and brutal (!) savage be thus, while the cultured, educated, refined man and woman of civilization worry wrinkles into their faces, gray hairs upon their heads, querelousness into their voices and bitterness into their hearts? When we use the word "worry" what do we mean? The word comes from the old Saxon, and was in imitation of the sound caused by the choking or strangling of an animal when seized by the throat by another animal. We still refer to the "worrying" of sheep by dogs—the seizing by the throat with the teeth; killing or badly injuring by repeated biting, shaking, tearing, etc. From this original meaning the word has enlarged until now it means to tease, to trouble, to harass with importunity or with care or anxiety. In other words it is undue care, needless anxiety, unnecessary brooding, fretting thought.
What a wonderful picture the original source of the word suggests of the latterday meaning. Worry takes our manhood, womanhood, our high ambitions, our laudable endeavors, our daily lives, by the throat, and strangles, chokes, bites, tears, shakes them, hanging on like a wolf, a weasel, or a bull-dog, sucking out our life-blood, draining our energies, our hopes, our aims, our noble desires, and leaving us torn, empty, shaken, useless, bloodless, hopeless, and despairing. It is the nightmare of life that rides us to discomfort, wretchedness, despair, and to that death-in-life that is no life at all. It is the vampire that sucks out the good of us and leaves us like the rind of a squeezed-out orange; it is the cooking-process that extracts and wastes all the nutritious juices of the meat and leaves nothing but the useless and tasteless fibre.
Worry is a worse thief than the burglar or highwayman. It goes beyond the trainwrecker or the vile wretch who used to lure sailing vessels upon a treacherous shore, in its relentless heartlessness. Once it begins to control it never releases its hold unless its victim wakes up to the sure ruin that awaits him and frees himself from its bondage by making a great, continuous, and successful fight.
It steals the joy of married life, of fatherhood and motherhood; it destroys social life, club life, business life, and religious life. It robs a man of friendships and makes his days long, gloomy periods, instead of rapidly-passing epochs of joy and happiness. It throws around its victim a chilling atmosphere as does the iceberg, or the snow bank; it exhales the mists and fogs of wretchedness and misunderstanding; it chills family happiness, checks friendly intercourse, and renders the business occupations of life curses instead of blessings.
Worry manifests itself in a variety of ways. It is protean in its versatility. It can be physical or mental. The hypochondriac conceives that everything is going to the "demnition bow-wows." Nothing can reassure him. He sees in every article of diet a hidden fiend of dyspepsia; in every drink a demon of torture. Every man he meets is a scoundrel, and every woman a leech. Children are growing worse daily, and society is "rotten." The Church is organized for the mere fattening of a raft of preachers and parsons who preach what they don't believe and never try to practice. Lawyers and judges are all dishonest swindlers caring nothing for honor and justice and seeking only their fees; physicians and surgeons are pitiless wretches who scare their patients in order to extort money from them; men in office are waiting, lurking, hunting for chances to graft, eager to steal from their constituents at every opportunity. He expects every thing, every animal, every man, every woman to get the best of him—and, as a rule, he is not disappointed. For we can nearly always be accommodated in life and get that for which we look.
We are told that all these imaginary ills come from physical causes. The hypochondrium is supposed to be affected, and as it is located under the "short ribs," the hypochondriac continuously suffers from that awful "sinking at the pit of the stomach" that makes him feel as if the bottom had dropped out of life itself. He can neither eat, digest his food, walk, sit, rest, work, take pleasure, exercise, or sleep. His body is the victim of innumerable ills. His tongue, his lips, his mouth are dry and parched, his throat full of slime and phlegm, his stomach painful, his bowels full of gas, and he regards himself as cursed of God —a walking receptacle of woe. To physician, wife, husband, children, employer, employee, pastor, and friend alike the hypochondriac is a pest, a nuisance, a chill and almost a curse, and, poor creature, these facts do not take away or lessen our sympathy for him, for, though most of his ills are imaginary, he suffers more than do those who come in contact with him.
Then there is the neurasthenic—the mentally collapsed whose collapse invariably comes from too great tension or worry. I know several housewives who became neurasthenic by too great anxiety to keep their houses spotless. Not a speck of dust must be anywhere. The slightest appearance of inattention or carelessness in this matter was a great source of worry, and they worried lest the maid fail to do her duty.
I know another housewife who is so dainty and refined that, though her husband's income is strained almost to the breaking point, she must have everything in the house so dainty and fragile that no ordinary servant can be trusted to care for the furniture, wash the dishes, polish the floors, etc., and the result is she is almost a confirmed neurasthenic because, in the first place, she worries over her dainty things, and, secondly, exhausts herself in caring for these unnecessarily fragile household equipments.
Every neurasthenic is a confirmed worrier. He ever sits on the "stool of repentance," clothing himself in sackcloth and ashes for what he has done or not done. He cries aloud—by his acts—every five minutes or so: "We have done those things which we ought not to have done and have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and there is no health in us." Everything past is regretted, everything present is in doubt, and nothing but anxieties and uncertainties meet the future. If he holds a position of responsibility he asks his subordinates or associates to perform certain services and then "worries himself to death," watching to see that they "do it right," or afraid lest they forget to do it at all. He wakes up from a sound sleep in dread lest he forgot to lock the door, turn out the electric light in the hall, or put out the gas. He becomes the victim of uncertainty and indecision. He fears lest he decide wrongly, he worries that he hasn't yet decided, and yet having thoroughly argued a matter out and come to a reasonable conclusion, allows his worries to unsettle him and is forever questioning his decision and going back to revise and rerevise it. Whatever he does or doesn't do he regrets and wishes he had done the converse.
Husbands are worried about their wives; wives about their husbands; parents about their children; children about their parents. Farmers are worried over their crops; speculators over their gamblings; investors over their investments.
Teachers are worried over their pupils, and pupils over their lessons, their grades, and their promotions. Statesmen (!) are worried over their constituents, and the latter are generally worried by their representatives. People who have schemes to further—legitimate or otherwise—are worried when they are retarded, and competitors are worried if they are not. Pastors are worried over their congregations,—occasionally about their salaries, very often about their large families, and now and again about their fitness for their holy office,—and there are few congregations that, at one time or another, are not worried by, as well as about, their pastors. The miner is worried when he sees his ledge "petering out," or finds the ore failing to assay its usual value. The editor is worried lest his reporters fail to bring in the news, and often worried when it is brought in to know whether it is accurate or not. The chemist worries over his experiments, and the inventor that certain things needful will persist in eluding him. The man who has to rent a house, worries when rent day approaches; and many who own houses worry at the same time. Some owners, indeed, worry because there is no rent day, they have no tenants, their houses are idle. Others worry because their tenants are not to their liking, are destructive, careless, or neglect the flowers and the lawn, or allow the children to batter the furniture, walk in hob nails over the hardwood floors, or scratch the paint off the walls. Men in high position worry lest their superiors are not as fully appreciative of their efforts as they should be, and they in turn worry their subordinates lest they forget that they are subordinate.
Mistresses worry about their maids, and maids about their mistresses. Some of the former worry because they have to go into their kitchens, others because they are not allowed to go. Some mistresses deliberately worry their servants, and others are worried because their servants insist upon doing the worrying. Many a wife is worried because of her husband's typewriter, and many a typewriter is worried because her employer has a wife. Some typewriters are worried because they are not made into wives, and many a one who is a wife wishes she were free again to become a typewriter.
Thousands of girls—many of them who ought yet to be wearing short dresses and playing with dolls—worry because they have no sweethearts, and equal thousands worry because they do have them. Many a lad worries because he has no "lassie," and many a one worries because he has. Yesterday I rode on a street car and saw a bit of by-play that fully illustrated this. On these particular cars there is a seat for two alongside the front by the motorman. On this car, chatting merrily with the handler of the lever, sat a black-eyed, pretty-faced Latin type of brunette. That he was happy was evidenced by his good-natured laugh and the huge smile that covered his face from ear to ear as he responded to her sallies.
Just then a young Italian came on the car, directly to the front, and seemed nettled to see the young lady talking so freely with the motorman. He saluted her with a frown upon his face, but evidently with familiarity. The change in the girl's demeanor was instantaneous. Evidently she did not wish to offend the newcomer, nor did she wish to break with the motorman. All were ill at ease, distraught, vexed, worried. She tried to bring the newcomer into the conversation, which he refused. The motorman eyed him with hostility now and again, as he dared to neglect his duty, but smiled uneasily in the face of the girl when she addressed him with an attempt at freedom.
Bye and bye the youth took the empty seat by the side of the girl, and endeavored to draw her into conversation to the exclusion of the motorman. She responded, twisting her body and face towards him, so that her sweet and ingratiating smiles could not be seen by the motorman. Then, she reversed the process and gave a few fleeting smiles to the grim-looking motorman. It was as clear a case of How happy could I be with either, Were t'other dear charmer away, as one could well see.
Just then the car came to a transfer point. The girl had a transfer and left, smiling sweetly, but separately, in turn, to the motorman and her young Italian friend.
The latter watched her go. Then a new look came over his face, which I wondered at. It was soon explained. The transfer point was also a division point for this car. The motorman and conductor were changed, and the moment the new crew came, our motorman jumped from his own car, ran to the one the brunette had taken, and swung himself on, as it crossed at right angles over the track we were to take. Rising to his feet the youth watched the passing car, with keenest interest until it was out of sight, clearly revealing the jealousy, worry, and unrest he felt.
In another chapter I have dealt more fully with the subject of the worries of jealousy. They are demons of unrest and distress, destroying the very vitals with their incessant gnawing.
Too great emphasis cannot be placed upon the physical ills that come from worry. The body unconsciously reflects our mental states. A fretful and worrying mother should never be allowed to suckle her child, for she directly injures it by the poison secreted in her milk by the disturbances caused in her body by the worry of her mind. Among the many wonderfully good things said in his lifetime Henry Ward Beecher never said a wiser and truer thing than that "it is not the revolution which destroys the machinery, but the friction." Worry is the friction that shatters the machine. Work, to the healthy body and serene mind, is a joy, a blessing, a health-giving exercise, but to the worried is a burden, a curse and a destroyer.
Go where you will, when you will, how you will, and you will find most people worrying to a greater or lesser extent. Indeed so full has our Western world become of worry that a harsh and complaining note is far more prevalent than we are willing to believe, which is expressed in a rude motto to be found hung on many an office, bedroom, library, study, and laboratory wall which reads: Life is one Damn Thing after Another [Note: this is outlined in a block.] Those gifted with a sense of humor laugh at the motto; the very serious frown at it and reprobate its apparent profanity, those who see no humor in anything regard it with gloom, the careless with assumed indifference, but in the minds of all, more or less latent or subconscious, there is a recognition that there is "an awful lot of truth in it." Hence it will be seen that worry is by no means confined to the poor. The wellto- do, the prosperous, and the rich, indeed, have far more to worry about than the poor, and for one victim who suffers keenly from worry among the poor, ten can be found among the rich who are its abject victims.
It is worry that paints the lines of care on foreheads and cheeks that should be smooth and beautiful; worry bows the shoulders, brings out scowls and frowns where smiles and sweet greetings should exist. Worry is the twister, the dwarfer, the poisoner, the murderer of joy, of peace, of work, of happiness; the strangler, the burglar of life; the phantom, the vampire, the ghost that scares, terrifies, fills with dread. Yet he is a liar and a scoundrel, a villain and a coward, who will turn and flee if fearlessly and courageously met and defied. Instead of pampering and petting him, humoring and conciliating him, meet him on his own ground. Defy him to do his worst. Flaunt him, laugh at his threats, sneer and scoff at his pretensions, bid him do his worst. Better be dead than under the dominion of such a tyrant. And, my word for it, as soon as you take that attitude, he will flee from you, nay, he will disappear as the mists fade away in the heat of the noonday sum.
Worry, however, is not only an effect. It is also a cause. Worry causes worry. It breeds more rapidly than do flies. The more one worries the more he learns to worry. Begin to worry over one thing and soon you are worrying about twenty.
And the infernal curse is not content with breeding worries of its own kind. It is as if it were a parent gifted with the power of breeding a score, a hundred different kinds of progeny at one birth, each more hideous, repulsive, and fearful than the other. There is no palliation, temporization, or parleying possible with such a monster. Death is the only way to be release.
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