I grew up believing that if you worried hard enough, bad things wouldn't happen to you. This was the legacy passed on to me by my mother and my grandmother, anxious women who believed that constant panic over every conceivable threat, from kidnappers to cancer, would act as a sort of inoculation that could protect you from harm. The idea was that if you paid your dues by being terrified in advance, you would be spared the full catastrophe.
As soon as I could walk and talk, my inheritance kicked in.
The birth of my son upped the worry ante big-time. Now there was another person—a tiny, helpless creature—whose life I feared for much more than my own. During Clay's first year, I got almost no sleep. He never kept me awake; he was a miniature Rip van Winkle. But I was certain that if I didn't check on him every 20 minutes, he'd stop breathing.
By the time I reached my thirties, I began to suspect that my strategy of "Worry now, keep terrible things from happening later" wasn't all it was cracked up to be. For one thing, despite my persistent panic, stuff happened. First, Clay was knocked down and nearly trampled by a runaway horse while we were playing Frisbee on the beach. Next, my grandmother—Queen of the Worry Warriors—broke her hip, had a massive heart attack and developed cancer, all within one year. If the Queen couldn't protect herself against disaster, who could?
Looking back, I'm glad these events—traumatic as they were—took place in quick succession. If they hadn't, I might not have understood so soon that life will have its way with us, no matter how hard we try to control it. For me, worry had become an unwieldy suit of armor: Instead of protecting me, it weighed me down and kept me from taking in the ten thousand joys and blessings my life had to offer. I also realized that the dangers I most feared rarely came to pass; the pesky disasters I somehow overlooked were the ones that sneaked up and stopped me in my tracks. So what was the point of worrying?