Noah Schultz, a student of Deb Arthur through Portland State University’s “Inside Out” program, read and responded to the YES! Magazine online article “Life After Worry” by Akaya Windwood. In her article, 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?
Blessing in Disguise
I walk into the visitation center and see my father, hands moving rhythmically as he drums his fingers on the round table. His eyes wander as he impatiently awaits my arrival. I call out “Dad!” and his blank stare shifts to a wide grin. He quickly stands up and we embrace. The scents of cigarette smoke, instant coffee and engine grease fill my nostrils. I hate all three of them, but they are nostalgic. Childhood memories of working in his shop rush through my mind.
I start the visit by asking him how he is doing. Not the generic “How are you?” but a real “How are you?” For quite some time my father’s wellbeing has been one of my biggest worries. He is constantly telling me that he is fine but under his smile I can see the truth. When he sees the concern on my face he tries his best to change the subject by cracking a joke I’ve heard a hundred times before. I grin and laugh halfheartedly out of respect, acknowledging that the question makes him uncomfortable.
It is difficult to see the man that once stood as my hero walk the tight rope of the poverty line. His survival depends on a monthly disability check, food stamps and an eBay side hustle. The foundation of his life has been rattled by multiple sclerosis, divorce and a son sentenced to seven years in prison.
These worries linger in my mind, popping up to haunt me at random moments. During meals when people complain about the quality of the food, I wonder if my Dad has enough to eat. When the weather is cold I imagine him huddled next to a space heater in his trailer, bundled up in sweaters and long johns.
I know these aren’t the thoughts he would want to occupy my mind. He tells me to focus on my college studies and career aspirations. They are the first things he asks about when we talk. My success in these areas has become intertwined with my love for my father. By striving for excellence in these pursuits, I honor him. His low socioeconomic status qualified me for financial aid—his struggles are allowing me to advance. Talk about blessings in disguise.
Although his sickness has drained his energy and robbed him of his muscle mass, he sits as a symbol of strength before me. I know that worrying does not help. There is nothing positive about filling my mind with anxiety and creating stories for situations that do not exist. In her essay Life after Worry, Akaya Windwood reminds me that worry never changes the outcome. This has become my new mantra.
My dad does not live his life like a victim; there is no reason why I should see him as one. My worry for him does neither of us any good. I know this, and yet my uneasiness persists. It is time to begin breaking down my worries into digestible pieces. I need to dissect them on the table of my mind—interrogate them and find their purpose. By converting frustration into passion I can take my power back. Mental alchemy at its finest.
This stress and worry is an obstacle on my path to success—dead weight strapped to my feet. It cramps my range of motion, preventing my arms from reaching for the stars. I refuse to sing the lyrics of “Woe Is Me.” My father hates that song. This man perseveres and makes do with what he has; I must strive to do double. His image will always remain planted on the dashboard of my heart, reminding me to be grateful and to smile through any hardship life throws my way.
I am pulled back to reality by five fingers waving in front of my face. “Son, are you there? Did you hear what I said?” I quickly gather my thoughts and respond “No, sorry Dad, what was that?” He looks at me quizzically and says “How are your classes going this term?” I smile and our visit begins.