By Lavinia Plonka
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’….Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Gospel of Matthew
If you’re reading this article, it means that the worry gene has struck again. The world did not end on December 21, 2012, and millions, maybe billions of people around the globe once again spent excessive amounts of energy and anxiety on a chimera.
Then again, if they were right….
My mother, who was Russian, had the worry gene. Of course, when we were growing up, we didn’t call it that. We just figured she had a dark side. But thanks to modern science, we can be pretty sure that Mom’s need to call the police five minutes before we were supposed to be home, or her dire pronouncements on our fate were actually a genetic issue. If she was alive now, she could benefit from a cocktail of drugs that would have quieted her mordant dread and made her a much less interesting person. I can’t even imagine what my childhood would have been like without that constant nagging fear that we would have no food on the table (never happened), that our house would be re-possessed by the IRS, (Ditto), or that I would end up a shiftless hippie freak, living in a den of drugs and orgies (OK, well, I never got into the orgies.)
As December 21 approaches, my mother’s countrymen are leading the world with their unique brand of hysteria. The government of Russia has been forced to take drastic measures in response to a national crisis surrounding the Mayan Calendar interpretations. According to an article in the NY Times, “Inmates in a women’s prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a ‘collective mass psychosis’ so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles.”
Among the emergency measures the government has been taking to calm the national worry gene is to ban mention of December 21 or the Mayan Calendar on TV. Lawmakers and religious leaders are speaking out, trying to calm the nation. There is even a proposal to prosecute rumor mongers, including psychics – starting on December 22. A gag survival package selling like hot cakes in Siberia, which includes vodka (of course), sports a classic Russian motto: “It can’t be worse,” one of my mother’s favorite sayings.
Learning that my mother’s pathological need to worry was a genetic disorder emblematic of her race has impacted on my own relationship to this irksome human behavior. (The jury is out on whether animals worry. Apparently worry isrelated to the future and since animals live in the present, they have no time to worry.) When I was younger, I vowed I would never be like my mother. I would have a job. I would be independent. And god dammit, I was not going to worry. I do not call the police when my husband Ron is late. I just assume he forgot to call me, or forgot his cell phone, or forgot where he lives and will get home eventually. I don’t worry about illness. (My mother became a trembling nervous wreck when her periods stopped and her belly started to grow when she was 39. She was convinced some horrible tumor was growing in her belly. My father finally dragged her to the doctor, who informed her that her “tumor” would soon be my baby sister.)
But the worry gene is tricky. It can lie latent for months or years, then suddenly attack (often at 4 AM). How will I ever be able to pay for new tires, and the property taxes? What did that guy mean, I’ll need a new roof soon? Why did three people cancel their appointments last week? Could they all REALLY have the flu? What if I’ve lost my touch? Why did I buy those skinny jeans? (oops, that’s not worry, that’s regret.)
And oh my god! How will I ever retire? Not that I want to, but the worry gene is powerful and can make you worry about things you don’t even care about. I suddenly find myself concerned about the fiscal cliff. Whether I’ll look stupid still dying my hair when I’m in my 70’s. Whether I’ll still have hair to dye by then. If I will succumb to a food intolerance. Every once in a while, when the worry gene has completely possessed me, and I am absolutely convinced that we will soon descend to rack and ruin, I bury my head on Ron’s chest and wail, “Just tell me everything’s going to be OK.” And Ron, whose WASP heritage doesn’t include the worry gene, but does include the “compulsively late” gene, will pat me and say, “Of course it will. It’s OK now, isn’t it? Why should it not be OK later?” I think he may have learned this wisdom from spending so much time with our cats.
One of my mother’s favorite worries as she got older was that she would have no money and would become “a ward of the state.” Anytime we asked her why she didn’t invest the money she had from a house sale, or why she would only buy clothes at the thrift store, or why she never wanted to spend money going out to dinner, she would tell us in no uncertain terms that she was saving that money so that she wouldn’t become “a ward of the state.” Try as we could to assure her that nothing like this could happen, her worry gene kept her from enjoying her life, in anticipation of an even worse future. I looked up “ward of the state” and learned that it is a term for foster children. Imagine, a lifetime of worry over something she never even looked up.
Is worry genetic? I actually think worry is a strategy people use to assure themselves of failure. There’s nothing so satisfying as saying, “I knew this would happen.” My mother would always tell me, after I had broken up with a boyfriend she had disapproved of, or wept over a lost contest, “I warned you. You wouldn’t listen.” And I’m still not listening. In fact, I’m planning on a fabulous 2013. And one of my resolutions is to not worry! So a hundred million Russians better be wrong. See you at the bottom ofthe fiscal cliff.
When not trying to alter her DNA, Lavinia is helping others shift away from worrisome habits towards a happier, functional life via The Feldenkrais Method®. Laviniaplonka.com. Want more CosmiComedy? Visit cosmicomedy.com.