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worry if you must, but still have a cup of tea
learning to gauge my worries
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)
6.21.12
general

I was in a cafeteria getting myself a cup of tea. I grabbed a teabag from a dispenser and dropped the teabag in the paper cup. Before I could reach my arm across to the hot water tap, a lady intercepted and proceeded to grab a teabag out of the same dispenser. I waited.

She tried and tried to grab just one bag from the bottom of the stack, but couldn't. She finally threw her hands up in frustration and said “My hands don't work.”

I smiled and grabbed a teabag for her. She thanked me and added: “Chemotherapy. It makes things not work.” She chuckled, too. I knew this woman was a cancer patient before she mentioned chemotherapy, because she had a beautiful silk scarf tied around her head. Besides, I was in a hospital cafeteria.

It was my second morning in that hospital. I ached all over after my second uncomfortable night there, sleeping with half my body on a hospital bed and the other on the most uncomfortable chair in the universe. My breakfast was going to be a peach danish (the best I've ever had) and a cup of tea, but only after heavy urging from everyone to get something into my empty stomach. Also, the verdict was still out for what exactly it was I had taken a family member into the emergency room two days prior. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck.

But when that lady said what she said, instead of going into shock and plunging deeper into the hospital blues, I smiled and told her she was welcome and not to worry about it. Now, despite it being one of the most depressing things I can imagine someone telling me while in the state I was in that morning, when that lady put further into perspective why she was in that hospital, it wasn't so much what she said, as much as how she said it, that made her statement somewhat cathartic.

It could be that she got good news about being cancer-free that morning, hence her good attitude, but still, there is something about the effects of cancer that keep the whole thing sobering when seen, no matter how good the news is. I can't say it lifted my spirits (how could it?), but to hear someone dealing with something as devastating as cancer treatment laugh in the very building where their cancer takes center stage is truly a wake-up call to someone like me.

You see, I can be quite the worrier. I wallow in worrying and have a fatalistic thinking pattern that can make the tiniest glitch in the universe some huge and colossal disaster that eats away at my comfort and peace of mind. It cripples me, really, and I'm just waiting for the day when my brand of worrying makes me forget how to breathe altogether.

This all started early, my fretting. Since time immemorial, my mom has been rolling her eyes whenever I express concern over anything, because I pretty much notice things that aren't even there to notice. Even more than that, I am unable to gauge how much I should worry about something- whether it's an extra sleepy cat, or a visit to the emergency room, my worrying registers the same reading on the worrying scale.

Like, when I was a kid, if the family car had a flat tire, I would seriously cry about it. And once, I thought a resort's peacock wanted to come home with us, because clearly, he was in trouble and needed our help to escape the lush green hills in which he was roaming free with an endless supply of food (that was why he was sidling up to the car and eating the food we were throwing to him).

As an adult, I worry that my cats took one too many naps (which is impossible to calculate, considering all they do is take naps) and I wake them up to observe them, looking for dilated pupils, irregular breathing, lack of playfulness, loss of appetite, etc., only to find nothing of the sort and that my worrying served only to make the cats even crankier because I woke them up. (For the love of all that is holy, leave the cats alone, Reem!)

While my otherwise sobering encounter with the lady in the hospital cafeteria did not make me any less of a nervous wreck before I made it back to find out that everything was fine, that it was finally time to leave the hospital, it did make me think of my general attitude toward the smaller, less-serious glitches that come packaged with life.

Stuff happens, and sometimes it's serious and bad, which is when my brand of worrying is natural, and other times it's just a glitch, a hiccup, making my brand of worrying a recipe for lunacy. I was in that hospital for something serious that had the potential to be bad, but after my encounter I knew that I couldn't continue to worry the same way about my cats' fluctuating energy levels as I do about emergency room visits that require a two-night stay in the hospital. Two very different cases that should definitely register different readings on the worrying scale.

The attitude of the woman in the cafeteria helped me see the path more clearly toward a saner way of dealing with worries. She was undergoing a horrible thing to treat an even more horrible thing, and yet she still had the strength to go to the cafeteria, get a cup of tea and just live life as ordinarily as she could, not letting useless worrying cripple her or prevent her from getting a nice cup of tea or laughing at her clumsiness, no matter if it is caused by what would be worrying her if she wasn't a good sport.

It was simply inspiring to see a demonstration of the strength and resilience of the human spirit, and how well it can keep its owner going with the feeling that everything is going to be fine, even when at first glance it doesn't seem that way.

From now on, I will worry accordingly, and still have a cup of tea.


ABOUT REEM AL-OMARI

Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari

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