Worrying: Lessons from a Cat

I am a worrier. I worry about things that often don’t have a basis in reality. It might be considered an anxious behavior. It might be genetic. It might just be something that makes me, me. But at any rate, I am a worrier. 

I worry like the very act is an Olympic sport and I am a contender. I’m the Rocky Balboa of worrying. 

I worry like it’s a hobby. If worrying were a song, I’d know it like fifteen year old boys know “Stairway to Heaven.” It might be the only song I can play, but I know it inside and out.

I worry about things that I have absolutely no control over in any way. I worry about the behaviors of others. I worry about things that might happen. I worry about conflicts that haven’t happened. 

To some, this worrying may seem like a huge inconvenience. And, I’m not going to lie, it can be. I can worry myself into headaches, and I’ve made decisions based on the worst possible outcome instead of the best. But, all in all, my worrying has served me well.

Worrying about doing well in school scored me good grades. Worrying about being able to survive as an adult enabled me to buy a house on my own. Worrying about being not only a good teacher finally got me a job that I love at the university I once attended. 

But I often worry needlessly. And I know it. 

But yet, it doesn’t stop me. 

I don’t like conflict. I don’t back down from it if it faces me, but I don’t like it. And, I will worry about it.

Today, I woke up, went downstairs to where sleeping dogs snored like little trains, threw in laundry, and let the pups outside to do their business and bark at the neighbor. If they had to be up, so did their pal next door.

While I let them out, I read the news. I opened the app on my phone and looked at the local news. Not much had changed in the hours that I slept peacefully. I opened The New York Times and checked on the world. Still spinning. Then, like many others, I opened my social media app. 

One of the things that it likes to show me are memories. 

My husband and I lost Edgar in December, just four days before Christmas. 

Edgar Van Halen. My white and black flufferbutt, lovey man. The first pet I had on my own. My half blind mega boss. Edgar was the Marlon Brando of cats.

I found a photo of him today. He was stretched out on my old kitchen table and across a stack of papers that I was grading at the time. 

I remember the day. 

It was in 2011, before I got married, and near the end of my second year teaching. I poured every spare minute into work. I was a second year teacher and a workaholic. When I was at home, I was reading and grading. If I wasn’t reading and grading, I was developing content. I wanted to prove to someone (that infinite someone) that I was a good teacher. That I was worthy. 


I had gotten used to falling asleep at my desk. Head crashed into my computer. Highlighter marks on my face. Red pen stuck to my forehead. 


But this behavior calmed my worrying.


Edgar wasn’t having it. He jumped up on the table and pushed my grade book (yes, a paper grade book) off onto the floor. He took his giant white paws and pushed my highlighters, pens, and calculator onto the floor. Then he looked at me like mommy, you need to address thatLook what I did. Are you proud? 


I picked up my stuff and righted myself again. 


In the meantime,  he proceeded to stretch his huge girth across the papers I was reading. It was nearly dinner time, and I was exhausted. I was used to putting in anywhere from twelve to fourteen hours in my office on the weekends and at least three after work during the week. Like I said, working on a workaholic.


I looked at my big guy and took his picture. He always did things like that. He always let me know when enough was enough. 


That night, I captioned the photo from his point of view. 

“Mama, you work too hard and you worry too much.”

I have since learned to tone it down. I only have twelve to fourteen hour days when it’s nearing crunch time, and I try not to let that happen. I space out my work and have a “to-do” list each day to ensure that I am not waiting until the last minute but not making myself sick either.


I no longer actively worry about whether or not I am a good teacher, and that need to prove that I belong has faded as well. I am included in the group of educators that I admire. I am one of them. They have welcomed me.


But I still worry about other things that I can’t control. 


I don’t think that it’s any big surprise that Edgar’s photo showed up first thing this morning as I was scrolling through my morning routine. 


Somewhere, some ethereal being knows that I will listen to a cat.


As many times as trusted friends and family members tell me that I don’t need to worry as much as I do, about every thing that I do, their words, as brilliant as they are, tend to go in one side and out the other. Like a pool noodle with holes on each end.


But Edgar I can’t ignore.


His “birthday”, the day that I adopted him, is a week from today.   We would have had Edgar for five years. He would have been close to fifteen years old.


My own birthday is ten days later.


I think as a birthday present, I received a reminder to not worry so much. That was given to me today. Logically, I know that there are things I can’t control. And I know how senseless it is to worry about thing that haven’t happened. Better yet, I understand the waste of energy it is to worry about things that won’t ever happen, or are at least unlikely to happen.

But I worry that without worry, there is no compassion. There is no meaningful connection and desire to do well for the world. Even if that world is my own small one. What are we when we stop worrying?


But for me, it’s possible to be a compassionate person without worrying myself into an anxious knot.


We are all works in progress and I truly believe anyone arrogant enough to believe that he or she isn’t is lying. They are lying to themselves and to anyone else.


So I have a new goal: stop worrying so much. 


This reminds me of both Shonda Rimes and Elizabeth Gilbert. Two powerhouse women that have my admiration.  Coincidentally, or not (?), I am reading Shonda’s Year of Yes and saw Liz Gilbert speak last week. Liz says that the world will still spin, no matter what. And that it’s not selfish to take time to do the things that make “you” “you”. Shonda would tell me to just say yes(!) and not to worry. Again, it will all be okay.


I am convinced that the guiding light in my life brought that book, the workshop with Liz, and that photo of Edgar to me in a series. I saw Liz first, starting reading Shonda second, and found the photo of Eddy third.


Good things happen in a series right? Everything happens in threes?


Or, my guiding light knows that I trust the words of a cat. Edgar was the Mr. Miyagi. Does that make me the next, next karate kid?


Either way, I am not worrying about it. Not now. Not later.


I’m taking my paw and pushing it off of the table just to watch it fall.


I’m pretty sure that is exactly what Edgar would have done. 


Thank you for the lesson buddy. I’m always listening. 


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