When I Stopped Worrying

imageOne day, when I was about 10 years old, I stopped to see my grandmother on my way home from school (I always cut through her apartment to get to ours because she was often baking). I was upset by the news that we were going to be moving to a neighboring town. I was afraid about losing my friends and going to a new school. My grandmother sensed my anxiety and, after hearing my sad story, asked me if worrying about it was going to help. Of course I said “no”, in response she said

Worry is wors ting, stop worrying.”

Everything with that woman was the worst thing. I can still hear her broken English way of saying it: “wors ting, dog in house” “wors ting, kiss on mouth” – store bought bread, wasting food, a dress without pockets, all “wors tings.”

Still, I did stop worrying, not just about moving, but about everything – to this day I simply don’t worry about most things. Many people will tell you not to worry about something, but most can’t back it up like my grandmother.

My grandmother was born in the Beckah Valley in Syria in 1886 and became one of too many women in a poor shepherd’s family. Adding persecution to poverty, her family was part of the struggling Orthodox Christian minority. My great-grandfather knew his daughter’s future was bleak. When she was 13, he took her and two of her sisters to Beirut. Once in Beirut, he quickly arranged to marry his three daughters to three brothers who were sailing to America.

My grandmother and her husband settled near Pittsburgh, PA. They built a store with some apartments that they could rent and they started a family that would include eight children by 1923. Things were looking up for a while but in 1927 her husband and their two oldest daughters were killed in an automobile accident. She was left to fend for herself and to raise her children, the youngest of which (my father) was only four years old.

With no marketable skills and only a basic understanding of English, my grandmother was ill-equipped for the task that lay ahead of her. The Great Depression in 1929 thrust her back into poverty. She was a poor, widowed mother with four children still at home but she survived. The fact that she never worried about her survival is one of the important lessons I learned from her.

A few years after we moved, my grandmother suffered a stroke that left her with memories of her early life but no short-term memory. She was able to care for herself, but she needed constant companionship and I was often that companion.

Being with a person who lacks short-term memory can be grueling, especially to an impatient teenage boy. She would tell me a story, then, having forgotten that she told me the story, she would repeat it. This cycle of storytelling would go on without end. Initially to ease that particular boredom, I started asking questions, just to get her to talk about something else.

It’s not as simple as saying “Sita, (Syrian for grandmother) imagecan you tell me more about that?” Because she had already forgotten what ‘that’ was. I had to work to analyze each thread and form a question to lead that thought forward.

She would tell me about tending sheep in Syria and the dangers from groups of thieves and packs of hyenas and I would ask her if she had a dog with her at the time.

“Yes,” then she described how their dogs stayed with the sheep. Inevitably that would lead to: “in this country, dog is in house – dog in house, wors ting!” At that point we had to return to Syria. “Sita, how long did you stay out with the sheep at night when you were a little girl?

As I asked these questions, my grandmother revealed bits and pieces of her truly interesting life – cycles of poverty and adventure. Each answer encouraged more questions and my mission became to find out as much as I could about this fascinating woman.image

One day I asked her “Sita, you say you don’t worry about things but how could you not worry about your life after your husband died?” She told me again, “worry is wors ting” and she added: “St. George took care of me.” St. George was the patron saint of her church. She didn’t worry because she had faith in God. That struck me as a remarkable amount of faith – to simply trust God to handle the mess that was her life – that was a Biblical amount of faith.

Another time I said “Sita, you talk so often about the bad things that happened in your life and the scary times you lived through but you never sound angry. Why is that?” She said: “anger is wors ting.” Of course it is; what isn’t? I thought. She went on: “anger festers inside (poking her chest) and turns to hate and hate is wors ting.” The conversation returned to the old country, to her memories of religious persecution, St. George and the salvation she found through life in America. Then the cycle of stories would begin again.

Worry, anger and hatred were all evil in her mind.  What my grandmother knew but couldn’t express was that worry can be debilitating. Worry can prevent you from rising to the challenges in life while your fear and anxiety become self-fulfilling prophecies. What she knew and expressed quite well was that anger unchecked fosters hatred and hatred truly is the worst thing. She died 42 years ago today. I don’t think she was worried at the time.

About Dan Antion

Husband, father, woodworker, cyclist, photographer, geek - oh wait, I’m writing this like I only have 140 characters. I am all those things, and more, and all of these passions present me with opportunities to observe, and think about things that I can’t write about in other places. I have started this blog to catch the stuff that falls out, overflows and just plain doesn’t fit the other containers in my life.
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37 Responses to When I Stopped Worrying

  1. Dan Antion says:

    todays Pictures – The photos are all from a brief visit my daughter and I took to Pittsburgh in 2009. My grandmother is buried next to the site of the new St. George Orthodox Church, but I was happy to be able to visit the old building one last time. My grandparents helped build that church and many of my memories about my grandmother took place in that building, either for Mass, or Bingo or a fantastic meal after somebody’s funeral. Faith has some great photos from that trip on her Flickr site.

  2. Wendy Brydge says:

    Dan, I want to say something, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t know what to say. This was very, very nice, and God bless your grandma.

  3. A lot of people want to see the future travel into the future, but I would certainly want to travel back in time when people were so down to earth human beings. There was so much wisdom, knowledge and sense of being together and mutual respect and the way of life was so different, even when there were man-made and natural calamities. I want to live and experience that time, live with such people around and understand the true essence of life. Dan, what a great way to mark this day.

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thank you. I wonder how many people today could endure the hardships of everyday life back then. It would be interesting to really know what it was like. I heard many stories, but I’m not sure my imagination is strong enough to give me a sense of understanding of what she went through.

      • I too have heard many stories of hardships and the kind of lifestyle that my grandparents went through, but they also tell me the good things that they don’t find anymore. So, I would certainly like to risk everything and go back in time.

      • Dan Antion says:

        I think life was hard but maybe it was easier to be happy.

  4. gpcox says:

    A sad story of an extremely strong woman – inspirational.

  5. Thank you for opening a private part of your life as a child and for sharing the wisdom of your beloved grandmother. She was so right about anger, hate and worry. And she must have been a great baker, too.
    I have a special fondness for her broken English, of course.

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks :) My father spoke a little Syrian but only when he had a conversation with her that he didn’t want us to understand. I always worry that my readers will get whiplash when I switch from the Internet to woodworking to family stuff, but today is an important day.

  6. jillscene says:

    Dan, Sometimes WP needs a double like button! Your post is a loving insight in to someone who surely was a remarkable woman living no ordinary life.

    • Dan Antion says:

      Aw, thanks Jill, that’s very sweet. She was a very special woman, and although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, I was blessed to have been able to spend so much time with her.

  7. Paul says:

    Another terrific post, Dan. Some very sage advice. As they say, “Worry is the interest paid in advance on a debt you may never owe.” I’m not surprised to see that your grandmother’s faith in God helped her avoid needless anxiety. As Padre Pio once said, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”

  8. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    FAITH WORKS!

  9. Take things day-by-day, like your Grandma did! Her faith, love and perseverence inspire! :)

  10. she was very smart.when my grandmother was 99 ,i was 22…my father’s mother…she called my mother’s sister’s husband’s mother Miss K new , because miss k new couldn’t say new for knew everything had a K…

  11. Dan Antion says:

    Thanks for stopping by and adding the comment. It’s funny the things we remember, but it is important that we do remember.

  12. Cimmorene says:

    Dan, I want to tell you, the lessons you taught in this posting are so profound. They are lessons I’ve been struggling to learn all of my life. Strangely, I think I finally get it. The leaders of our church also teach that faith and trust in God can take the place of fear and worry. They teach that anger is truly the worst thing, as it leads to many terrible things, including regret. In my religion, we also teach that your grandma is probably among a large group of people who are happily learning new ideas and doing things to stay busy. I don’t doubt for a moment that she is probably watching over you and would be pleased to know that her life and teachings meant something to you. Thank you, Sita. Thank you, too, Dan. You’ve helped me understand that message. Don’t worry, Julie. Father is watching and He’ll take care of you. Promise.

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Julie. I learned so much from my grandmother and, like you said I think it took me a long time to understand many of her lessons. More than anyone I’ve ever known, she lived her faith on a daily basis. You are correct, I think she is watching over me. I sometimes think about the fact that it’s pretty amazing that a woman who was illiterate and who didn’t stray much from her adopted home town is now having her story shared on the Internet. I hope that I have made or can still make that kind of impression. Thanks again.

  13. dweezer19 says:

    Dan, your grandmother was a jewel but I am sure you know that. I have said recently that the real problem with modern society is that they have not experienced real struggle and hardship. It is almost non existent in much of American culture. Thank you for sharing your story of loce. I needed to hear Sita’s words today. You were fortunate to have her in your life. Take care.

  14. Dan Antion says:

    Thanks for that comment. I need to remember her words often. I agree that many people in America don’t understand what it’s like to struggle. I’m not wishing that on anyone, but it builds a strength that can’t be learned in other ways.

  15. Damyanti says:

    Worry can prevent you from rising to the challenges in life while your fear and anxiety become self-fulfilling prophecies.

    That’s the essence of this post, Dan. Thank you for sharing your grandma’s wisdom.

  16. Peter Nena says:

    My grandmother had a large herd of cattle and she used to make sour milk and store it in a huge gourd. She would call us on Sunday evenings and give us cupfuls of it. It was the best thing when we were little. We would look forward to it and wish that there would be no school the following week, that every day was Sunday. We respected her and loved her, and when she sent us on errands we’d run like the wind, always hoping for a cupful of that sour, sweet, incredible thing.
    But you are right, Dan: worrying is like a poisonous worm that eats one inside-out. I have had my moments of worry, countless moments, until I decided that whatever my come, anything, I will deal with it such as I can. I don’t know what it is but I will deal with it. No need to worry about it at all.

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks for the comment Peter. I think those memories sustain us in a way nothing else can. My grandmother used to send me into her garden to pick parsley and I frequently returned with carrot tops. She would laugh and send me back out, but she never made it seem like a big mistake. You’re right, we can deal with things as best we can.

  17. Patti Hall says:

    I found you through joeyfully and I’m so glad I did . This was a beautiful piece. I love the way you weave your stories.
    P

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thank you so much. I love the way the community puts us in touch with new people. I’m reading a couple of your blog posts right now. I have too many to follow, but I can’t resist adding good reads to the list. Thanks again.

  18. This was a most unexpected post from you, but a truly welcome and up-lifting one too. Your grandmother’s, and now your own, philosophy about worrying and the effects in can have is to be admired and emulated as far as possible. This was a very frank and illuminating window into a special part of your life, which can be a very thing to write about, and just as difficult to make the decision to even do so.

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Paul. I’m getting a little more comfortable with personally revealing posts. I have some others that will have to wait a bit. In addition to the switch to pulling on a personal thread, I always hope that the blog doesn’t become a roller coaster for followers. She was a very special woman and she had a profound influence on my life so it’s hard for me to act as if “I just know this” or “this is how I am” because I didn’t get here by myself. Thanks again for the comment.

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