Sep 15, 2017

From Here to Eternity

Sarabjeet D Natesan

I worry. A lot.

However, I hardly worry about myself. I just like the idea of worry; to me, it is to be concerned, to be involved, to show that I care and to understand the circumstances that others are in.

As a kid, I used to worry about my parents, my sisters, my friends, my dog and my nanny and housekeeper who was affectionately called ‘Massi”. Massi was about 65 and had shocking white hair and a damaged eye. In her youth, she had been hurt by a cow that she was trying to milk and since then her right eye was half shut. It gave her a very intimidating look and it gave me a tremendous worry about cows. I would imagine many situations involving cows and people close to me getting hurt. Massi’s half shut eye also got very worried about eye injuries. When Massi got angry at us, which was not very often, she would pull up her eyes to her forehead and there would be a glint in the right eye and that gave me some really serious worry. My worry also extended to my dogs; Timzy, Naffy, Sparky running out of the house due to the front gate carelessly left open. I would be sitting in the class room but my entire attention would be on the front gate, willing it to stay shut. Our house help would hand wash our clothes and dry them in the area outside of the house, I would sit and worry if the clothes are on the clothesline or have they been blown away by the wind; this despite having strong wooden pegs holding them down. I had planted a young sapling in my garden and for a very long time, I worried about it getting eaten up by insects or birds. I would sit beside it for hours trying to ward off an imaginary adversary. I would worry if my mother was late from work, if my sisters’ school bus did not get them home on time, if my father’s flights were delayed. I just worried about everything I could think of. And I always thought to myself that my worry prevents anything from happening and would pat myself on the back!

As I grew older, these worries were replaced by other worries. I worried about my job, about my children’s wellbeing, about the state of the nation, about the anger in the society, about the quality of water, about the carpool in the morning, about the maid not turning up for work, about the washing machine giving up on me, about the guests coming over for dinner, about the birthday party I had to plan, about the gas cylinder running out, about just the very ordinary and the mundane. These worries were technically not worries but gave me a lot to do and kept me from higher order worries. And for the time being, I was happy to worry about things that I could manage.

The higher order worries that these small ones helped me to avoid were always about my parents. As I was growing old, so were they. My frequent visits home were getting less frequent, with school schedules and exams factored in. My mother would call and ask me when I was visiting; enticing me with offers of my favorite meals and bottles of homemade pickles and stories about family members; my father would hesitatingly inquire when I was visiting and happily offer to buy my tickets to get me home. Each trip home found my parents frailer and weaker than before. The slow process of aging was on a fast track and I could do nothing to prevent it despite all my worry. And that really worried me.

My parents were in reasonable health and independent and were doing things that made them happy but they were lonely and my constant worry was what if my mother’s arthritis gave her too much trouble, what if my mother fell, what if she is not able to manage her pain, what if my father was not well to take care of my mother, what if they were alone when something bad happened, what if …, I could not face the last question. In my desperation to do something about my worry, I asked my parents to move in with me. To leave their home of 50 years and travel over state lines and live in a strange new place. I figured that I would have my parents and my kids in one place and could easily contain all my worries.

I was convinced about my plans and thought that my parents would be overjoyed at the suggestion. My father heard me out patiently as was his wont, and said to me that all your worries are about a progression of life, about coming full circle. Quoting the Guru Granth he said, ‘Jo upjo so binas, paro aaj ke kaal’, whatever is born, must also be destroyed, today or tomorrow. You are worried about a certainty, learn to worry only if something unforeseen happens ‘Chinta ta ki kijiai, jo anhoni hoe’. And there is nothing about life that is unpredictable. I argued with my father, told him that I wanted them to be with me forever. My father related a small story to me. It was about a blind man, who went to Guru Nanak and asked that his eye sight be restored. Guru Nanak smiled and said to him that of all the things you could ask for, you ask for something that you will lose again one day!

I did not force my parents to move but made sure that I visited them as often as I could, and made them travel often to meet me. I wonder where I would be today if my father had not spoken those words to me; I would be a mess of worry, concern, and anxiety about something so capricious, that not only I, no one else can control. My worries are still there, sometimes they sneak up on me, and at other times I manage to push them away. I am learning to separate my worries; things where I can control the outcomes from those which create a black hole of disquiet. I have also understood that worry will exist as long as there is life. I have also understood that worrying does not help. I have also understood that regardless of all this understanding, I will worry from here to eternity.

Meanwhile, if you have any worry, you can outsource it to me!

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