It’s lovely weather today, so I step outside my house and sit down on my porch swing. It’s a bit hot, so I’ve brought a jar of lemonade and some glasses out with me. Then I rock and wait for my visitors to show up.
The first to show up is Worry. She is so similar to her sister Anxiety that I sometimes have difficulty telling them apart. Usually Worry is a little more cerebral and more future-focused, while Anxiety mulls over the past. Also, Anxiety is more likely to show up wearing black lipstick. At any rate, today it’s Worry, fidgeting with button on her blouse.
“Have a seat,” I tell her. “Would you like some lemonade?” I’ve learned that refusing to talk to Worry or Anxiety doesn’t do me any good. They just start tapping on the windows, banging on the doors, or crawling in through a hole in the basement. I might as well welcome them.
Worry serves herself a half glass of lemonade. “Not too much,” she says. “I don’t want to have too much sugar. Also, I’m afraid I might spill it.”
I pat the space on the porch swing next to me. “Come sit down; tell me what’s on your mind.”
She sits down, sips her lemonade, and then launches into a long list of concerns. Is it foolhardy to quit my job? Is that going to undermine my ability to retire later? Will I miss the work? What if I never have such interesting colleagues again? Also, why do I have so much back pain recently? It doesn’t seem like the pelvic floor physical therapy is helping anything and it might be hurting my back? Maybe I just need more time to heal before trying to move and stretch things? Also, why is it that I feel so stuck lately in therapy? What happened to the progress we were making? Am I losing my focus? Maybe I’m not trying hard enough? Or what if I can’t get better than this? That would suck…
“Wow,” I say, when she finally stops to take a breath. “That’s a lot of things to worry about. It must be a heavy load to carry around all the time.”
She looks a little surprised at my reaction, but then says, “Right, it is!” She turns so I can see her gigantic backpack, stuffed to the point of overflowing.
I put my hand on her arm. “It’s really thoughtful of you to look ahead and alert me of all the things that might need attention.”
She raises one eyebrow, not sure if I am making fun of her.
“No, really. Let me tell you some of the things I am doing in response to your concerns. I have made financial spreadsheets to make sure we can last at least six months even if I don’t work at all. There’s no immediate economic disaster. Also, I’ve had two different people tell me there are many, many contracting options out there. Furthermore, earlier this week I met with a consultant to discuss retirement. Of course it would be better if I stayed at this job, with its good retirement benefits. But remember, this job prevents me from being healthy. What good is it to have a generous retirement if I die before I ever get there?”
We talk a while longer about physical therapy and my low back pain. We talk about the ebb and flow of “progress” in therapy.
“I know,” I tell her, “that giving you rational explanations is only a little helpful. But it shows you that I am hearing your concerns and trying to address them. Will you believe me when I say I promise to keep listening to you? You can set these heavy burdens down here on the porch, and bit by bit, I’ll deal with them. If you find new ones, you can bring them to the porch too.”
I show her there is a special cupboard on the big porch, and it has her name on it. “You can stick everything here, and that way it won’t be lost or forgotten.” She smiles for the first time since her arrival as she shrugs off her heavy backpack and sets it on the shelf in the cupboard. Then she swallows what remains of her lemonade and heads off on a walk.
Minutes later, it’s Lower Backache. She climbs the three steps up to the porch with difficulty and then sits down heavily on the porch swing with me. She is awkward and sweaty and smells kind of bad. She wears a strange garment, thick and prickly and shapeless. She constantly shifts her weight around, trying to get in a more comfortable position. She makes the swing shift in all different directions, but that’s okay; it’s made to hold weight regardless of the type of movement.
“Hello, LB. You aren’t the most pleasant of all my visitors, but I accept you, too. You, like all the others, are part of my experience in this life.”
She sighs deeply, and then makes a snorting noise. The social graces elude her. I realize suddenly that it’s because no one ever talks kindly to her. Everyone curses her, throws stones at her, yelling at her to go away. I often take ibuprofen so she’ll leave me alone.
“It’s must be hard,” I tell her, “if no one just lets you be the way you are.” She gets tears in her eyes. I put my arm around her, rough as she is, and she rests her head on my shoulder, relaxing a bit. We rock for a long time, until finally she makes another snorting noise, stands up, and shuffles off without a word.
I don’t know who the next visitor is. She comes up quietly so I don’t even notice her until she’s already on the porch. She has a scarf over her hair, her head down, and she’s carrying something wrapped in a bundle.
“I bet you have something to tell me too. Would you like some lemonade?”
She shakes her head but says nothing. All I know is that I feel my ease evaporate in her presence. I look around, wishing there were someone else around. It doesn’t feel right to be alone with her.
She steps closer to me. I feel cold, exposed. I stand up suddenly, knocking over the lemonade. Shit.
“Let me go grab the mop,” I tell her. At least it’s a good excuse to put a little space between us.
I take my own sweet time finding the mop and returning to the porch. When I finally get back, I see the woman has gone, but she’s left her bundle on the swing. Is it moving?
I approach the swing cautiously. What has she left me? With one hand, I draw back the cloth. And there, inside, is a baby, naked and wide eyed. When she sees me, she starts to cry.
“Oh, little one!” I say softly. I pick her up, and her crying grows louder. Her hands fling outwards. She’s terribly frightened, I realize.
I wrap her back up in the blanket and then sit back on the swing and hold her close to me, her head on my shoulder, my cheek against her forehead. “Shh, little one. It’s all right. You aren’t alone anymore. I’m right here.” I repeat those words in a hushed voice, over and over.
After a bit, she stops crying and relaxes against me. It’s the sweetest feeling.