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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Snow was falling lightly past the windows of the Fritz Hut on a quiet February morning. Tait and Cooper, both high school juniors, were lamenting their return to school the next morning. They spoke of their apprehension about college and the looming specter of the ACT, a test that could determine their futures.

We were the last to leave the hut, knowing we would catch our friends on the downhill, so we hung out talking about the angst over choosing a college, a career, a life path – big questions for teens.

Their anguish comes in the face of huge expectations and equally huge opportunities. Being 17 and looking at the rest of one’s life is overwhelming. All I could offer was encouragement to follow their individual paths and believe in the good that will follow. Maybe I should have whispered “plastics,” that famous line from “The Graduate.”

We locked the hut, slung on our packs, put on our skis, and tracked across the ridge beneath the snow-flocked branches of lodgepole pines. The air was calm and pure winter freshness. There was peace and beauty everywhere. Even in such a sublime setting, worry rears its ugly head.

Worry has been innate since ancient times when scarcity and survival prompted the need for food and shelter. Worry was a constant nag for humanity to find security. For many of us, security today is defined differently, but worry is strongly inculcated into our social and cultural institutions.

School usually generates the most worry our children will ever know, with traumas over academic performance and peer pressure that can last a lifetime. Anybody who doesn’t worry their way through school is either above it all or in denial. For anybody who takes the ACT, worry over competition becomes visceral and gripping.

Religions often employ demons and retribution to make us worry about salvation as we struggle with behavior codes that are routinely broken. We worry about Hell and damnation and the plight of the soul. We worry about our place in the eternal.

Capitalism is a worry factory. Do I have enough wealth? How can I get more? Fiscal competition starts in school and continues into the work force. Worries today over unemployment are causing nationwide paranoia that feels a blow to the solar plexus.

Nationalism builds worries over security. We worry about terrorists. We even have a color-coded worry index. We worry about war, balance of trade, energy, the dollar. We worry about the future of America in a world that seems intent on unseating us as a super power. We worry about politics and the ideological divide. The worries of our troops on the battlefield are manifest in post-traumatic stress syndrome that brings war home.

Worry drives fear and stress, leading to substance abuse, fantasy escape, relationship strains, addiction to meds, failing health. We take vacations from worry, only to worry about our vacations. We worry about our cars (Got a Toyota?), our pets, the IRS. In Aspen, we worry about ski conditions, avalanches, driving Highway 82, tourism, real estate, green fees, you name it.

Worry is built in, unavoidable, so we manage it with movies, music, books, plays and distractions like skiing and hut trips. At a remote hut you can get away from the big worries and focus on the little ones, like starting the wood stove, getting the ski wax right, linking turns down a steep trail.

Tait and Cooper have youthful worries. Having just turned 59, I have age worries about retirement, health care, illness, longevity. Should I worry about death? Why worry when it’s inevitable? OK, I’ll worry about how death comes.

We follow a meandering life path, for which preparation and attitude are all important. Worrying about uncertainties is natural. The challenge lies in finding enough peace and beauty to avoid the vortex of worrying too much about worry.


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