Beginning in 1952, MAD Magazine was a crazy, humorous publication that ran for 67 years before folding in 2018. For much of its life, it featured a freckled-faced, gap-toothed, big-eared, and grinning, homely young man with a caption on the cover stating, “What – Me Worry?” His name was Alfred E. Neuman. The fictional character became a cultural icon, and his signature phrase rarely changed. When it did, it would relate to a specific event and go something like, “I’m Not Worried!”
I never read the magazine when I was growing up, but the phrase “What – Me Worry?” was everywhere and described my then-emerging philosophy of not worrying about what I couldn’t do anything about. Later in life, when we ordinarily think of lessons learned from our parents, we consider skills, morals, and attitudes that improve our lives. One of the odd twists of learning from one’s parents is learning what not to do or be. As I grew from childhood, I found many admirable things in my parent’s example, making me a better person. My dad, however, had one trait that I rejected early in life because I saw the pain and damage it brought to the family, and that was his worrying.
I don’t blame him for that state. From my current “ivory tower” of a comfortable life, I can only imagine the stress he must have endured for many years. With a wife and three kids, that poor farmer was on the brink of absolute poverty most of the time while I was growing up. We speak of people worrying themselves sick in a flippant way over some small matter. For my dad, sick hardly describes it. He had migraine headaches that were so severe he would become incapacitated. As an adult looking back, it seemed like each episode lasted a long time. We, kids, were chased out of the house for hours, and when we came in for a meal or something else, we were told to make absolutely no noise. I remember my dad at the kitchen table with his head down and my mother with a worried look of her own that really left an impression.
Other than pain relievers, our family doctor recommended taking whiskey and “black draught,” a mixture that was hard to swallow, according to my dad. I gather from research it was a folk remedy no longer practiced. Black draught tasted terrible, and my dad not only hated it, but the whiskey as well.
The lesson I learned from him was that worry can not only bring on pain and suffering, but it also incapacitates the worrier, so nothing gets done to resolve the actual cause of worry. Therefore, it serves no purpose other than as a punishment for the act of worrying.
Does that mean I’ve never worried about anything? Nope. I have been guilty of the same on occasion, but I can say it hasn’t dominated my life. I tell others often not to worry too much and try to practice it myself as much as possible. Like any other thing in life, we all know what we should do or not, and often we may fall short.
We may set lofty goals for our behavior and actions in life. The fact that we may fail to meet them should not worry nor discourage us. That serves no purpose. I’ve found the best thing to do is pick myself up, dust myself off, and carry on. How about you?