Winter 2015: “Letting Go of Worry” Powerful Voice Winner Melanie Fox

Read Melanie's essay, "The Stress of Safety Pins," about how a person's worries can define them, for better or for worse.

Melanie Fox, a student of Elise Turner at Orchard View Charter School in Sebastopol, California, read and responded to the YES! Magazine online article “Life After Worry” by Akaya Windwood. Windwood shares that worrying never changed the outcome of whatever she worried about. She discovers that when she replaces worry with trust she can be more present for her sister who has MS. And her friends, co-workers, and family find her more clear-headed, creative, and strong.

Writing Prompt: Think of the things you worry about. What is one worry you’d like to throw away? What would you replace your worry with, and what would you—and possibly those around you— gain by not having that worry in your life?

The Stress of Safety Pins


When I was nine years old I listened to everything my older sister Christine told me, as if she was the Jesus of social graces and I, her disciple. I earnestly obeyed any and all direction from her. One thing she counseled me on was the length of my pants. My mother had bought me a pair of Levis with more length, so I could grow into them. When I’d walk, I would occasionally trip on my jeans. My sister instantly scolded me when I decided to roll up the ends of my jeans to prevent the hems from wearing down, because, of course, it was not fashionable to roll up the cuffs of your Levis. She showed me how to use a safety pin to keep the bottoms of my jeans in place.

 On the first day of school, not even once within the first hour did I trip on my pants! That morning, our entire school went to our first assembly. We heard about all the different rules and regulations, no chewing gum in class, no phones on campus, the usual guidelines. One rule caught my attention more than any other: any student in possession of a sharp object at school would be in serious trouble. I sat in my class until lunch petrified that I’d be caught with safety pins on my pants. I couldn’t ask to go to the bathroom; my teacher would be suspicious, wouldn’t she? I didn’t hear anything that was taught that morning. At lunch I went to the restroom and flushed my safety pins down the toilet, worried they would clog the drain and I’d get caught and expelled. The rest of the day, as I ran onto the playground or walked down the halls, I’d trip on my jeans. 

Worries and the anxieties of life can be tedious and burdensome, even when they are as small as safety pins, but there is some merit in them. What we worry about, when we don’t have a say in the matter, characterizes us. The part of this puzzle that is often overlooked is that sometimes our worries show where our heart lies. It’s how we act after we acknowledge our concern; it’s the next step we take that defines us. 

However, it is important to remember that not everyone has the willpower to break free of the metaphorical chains of worry. I agree with Akaya Windwood when she writes in her YES ! Magazine article, “Life After Worry,” that worry doesn’t fix anything or anyone, and that it is a habit of the mind. And when we find someone who hasn’t moved past their worry, we can still give that person some credit for how they feel. Our worries can define us personally, and is more meaningful than being defined by what others think of us. If we choose to worry, we should worry about what is important to us and to make sure that those things are truly valuable, like world affairs, rather than vapid anxieties like the volume of your hair.

Ultimately the problem with worry isn’t worrying itself. If only I’d realized, in my younger and more vulnerable years, that I most likely wouldn’t have been caught with the safety pins—and even if I were caught, it wouldn’t have mattered. My worry was inevitable, but what I should have realized was that I wasn’t going to make a difference by worrying the way I had. If I am going to worry I might as well worry about something important, and do something about it.

Today I worry about many useless things, and thousands of worthwhile things. I worry about writing this paper, and that while walking to the library I will get kidnapped. I worry that I’ll disappoint the ones I love or that I talk way too much. These worries are aggravating—they take something special from me in the present that I don’t even notice until the future. The goal is not to let worry send me into a coma of concern, but rather, make the point to live my life to the fullest now. You see, our worry isn’t useless; it’s how we worry and what we worry about that can be the problem. Do we let our anxieties bring us down and control us, or do we respond by replacing worry with making life a little better for someone? Life is hard and sometimes we can’t help but worry, but it’s how we let the worry define us that can truly make the difference.

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