The Featherless Parrot: Worrying About Worrying Too Much
Written by: Julie Stoller
Oh poor little parrot, will they leave you all alone?
Do you fear an uncleaned cage,
an empty dish, or lack of home?
It makes me cry, such a sad sight indeed.
You pluck out all those pretty feathers;
I’m afraid you’ll start to bleed.
Beside yourself with worry
At what might not even happen
Will make you chilly and featherless in a hurry!*
From gargantuan issues (global warming and terrorism) to the minute issues (squirrels in my attic), I worry. In between those two extremes, from that which I have absolutely no control over to that which is easily remedied, there are a multitude of concerns like ever-vigilant sentries, with guns slung over their shoulders, marching to and fro and keeping me awake at night.
What’s that knocking sound? Is it just a branch hitting against the house, or is it a mouse? Is that cricket noise just wax in my ear, a clogged head, or something serious? Did I ever pay that phone bill, or is it overdue? Will I be able to find a better job so I can pay my bills? Will I ever be a decent writer, or is this a stupid idea? Will I be able to calmly handle everything when my parents die, or will I have a nervous breakdown? Is there something very important that I forgot to do today? Why do I keep forgetting things? Am I getting Alzheimer’s? Am I losing my mind?
Will I make myself sick from worrying about all this shit and not getting enough sleep?
The only question that I now realize isn’t a colossal waste of my time is that last one. As described in Stanford researcher Robert Sapolsky's “Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers”, modern stress research has linked stress to the major health problems plaguing mankind including heart disease, stroke, ulcers, depression, poor immunity, and aging. And worrying about everything, all the time, causes stress.
I worry about my constant striving
and always-present dissatisfaction gnawing away at my contentment-
but isn’t that the fate of a restless spirit?
I worry about those who are suffering in distant lands
whose heart-wrenching stories filter through to me on the morning news programs-
but isn’t that just compassion?
I worry about trying to do too much;
I worry that I’m doing too little-
But isn’t that just the burden of self-determination?
Never mind those New Age affirmations
They’ll make you quite mad!
Find your passion and do it daily
A sense of purpose will make you glad.
Even if it earns no money
Find that place in your heart that’s warm and sunny
And stretch out like the cat without a care.
The thing about worry, of course, is that it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. It doesn’t make you any better equipped to deal with the unexpected. If anything, in that charming state of semi-hysteria, it makes you ill-equipped to get up and fix yourself breakfast. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever to be gained by playing possible future scenarios over and over in my head, so why do I continue to do it?
Living in the past (regret, nostalgia) or living in the future (worry, wishful thinking) is pointless. For myself, at least, I think I do it because I’m simply bored and unhappy with the present.
Sweep the old away with a handy broom
nothing new can come in without some room.
Whether physical or metaphoric
It’s important to release it.
Exchange an old idea, a ratty sweater
For new clothes, new thoughts
You’re bound to feel a whole lot better.
Our parrot now is unperturbed
He sees the silliness of a worried bird
And has decided to let come what may
Have faith in the freshness of a newly dawned day
No longer plucking, he observes his room
Food and water aplenty, and outside, spring in bloom.
What did he have to fear? Not a thing!
And with that — he begins to sing.