Aunt Rosa: how to quit worrying

Reblogged from a few weeks ago to remind myself how futile worry is.

I have just finished reading Christopher Hitchens’ book, Hitch 22 where I came upon a quotation from Nabokov’s New Yorker short story entitled “Signs and Symbols”. (Nabokov’s story is available online.)

The mother in the story is looking at her photograph album and comes upon a faded picture: “Aunt Rosa, a fussy, angular, wide-eyed old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, cancerous growths – until the Germans put her to death, together with all the people she worried about.”

I had to stop reading.

While I don’t look fussy, angular or wide-eyed, I do qualify as old and I could give Aunt Rosa a run for her money in a worrying contest. In fact, apart from train accidents, we even worry about the same things. And of course, age, my own and my friends’, and the present economic climate are providing ample opportunity.

I had to stop reading because I was gobsmacked, (Great word isn’t it: my gob or face had been smacked.) by the sheer dreadfulness of the idea, its absolute finality, but much more than that, by the relief I suddenly felt.

I could save myself all that anxiety and trouble. Life is carrying me and my loved ones forward, just as it bore Aunt Rosa and hers along and neither one of us can change that by fussing.

I wouldn’t call it fate or destiny and certainly not the will of God. For one thing that would be insulting to any self-respecting deity and for another, because I don’t believe in such a thing, except as the direction our own spirit wants to move us in.

Life as it carries us along feels more like the continuous cycle of change that the I Ching is predicated on. What is empty becomes full and what is full will not always be so.

True, the worst may happen, whatever that may be. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter. Hitchens says in the last chapter of Hitch 22, ” The clear awareness of having been born into a losing struggle need not lead one to despair”. What matters is facing life’s challenges without sentimentality.

What matters is our true nature.

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