Age Of Anxiety

“The world needs a wash and a week’s rest.” I love that line.  It’s W.H. Auden, from one of his longer poems, Age of Anxiety.  Don’t you know just what he means?  We all need time off work, time off being responsible, or productive.  We need time off the exhaustion of maintaining a positive outlook, staying optimistic. If moaning is your propensity, then that’s what you need time off from.  We need time off having an opinion, making decisions, being sociable.  We need time off from the daily routine.  But, most of all, we need time off feeling worried and anxious.  And, yes, I agree with Auden – wouldn’t it be great if the world had time off too?  If the world had a rest from the trials of drought, of flood, of fires, of natural disasters?  Then we would have a break from the slew of daily stories to which we awaken; news that leaves us feeling disaffected, depressed, anxious.  But the great world spins ceaselessly; it does not get time off for a wash and a week’s rest.  And so, just like de-cluttering a wardrobe, we must consciously de-clutter our minds from the havoc in the world that we carry around with us.  I don’t mean that we ought not care about world issues; rather, I think we can care and act and make a difference without letting the avalanche of world affairs flatten us with dread and worry.

Auden’s ‘Age of Anxiety’ was published in 1947.  The poem deals with man’s quest to find substance and identity in a swiftly changing world.  Set in a bar in New York, four characters anxiously contemplate their lives, hopes, losses and dreams.  In short, each of them is desperately trying to douse the wildfires of anxiety that persistently and regularly spring to life within them. “We would rather be ruined than changed / We would rather die in our dread/ Than climb the cross of the moment/ And let our illusions die.”(Excerpt from ‘Age of Anxiety’ by W. H. Auden). So much anxiety is born out of holding on to what we have: relationships, family, possessions, youth, wealth, status quo.  Seventy years on and we appear to be as anxious ever, as bewildered by the human condition as Auden’s characters were.

This morning S. helped me to de-clutter my wardrobe.  Space has been created that I’m not intending to refill.  Next, I must attend to my wardrobe of worries.  They also need a good pick through and clear out; time to discard the old frets, worn vexes, and stale concerns.  I know it is stilly and clichéd and not all that helpful for anyone weighted down by deep anxieties, but there is something reassuring in the simple words on the ubiquitous Irish tea towel entitled, ‘Why Worry?’‘In life, there are only two things to worry about: whether you are well, or whether you are sick.  Now, if you are well, you have nothing to worry about.  And if you are sick, you have two things to worry about: whether you get better or whether you die.  If you get better you have nothing to worry about, and if you die, you have only to things to worry about: whether you go to heaven, or whether you go to hell.  Now, if you go to heaven, you have nothing to worry about.  And if you go to hell you’ll be too busy shaking hands with your friends that you won’t have time to worry.  So, don’t worry.’

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