When I was a kid, I used to worry about a lot of things. Maybe you know a kid like that or maybe you even have a kid like that. I'd like to say that one day I had a great epiphany and now I enjoy a worry-free life, but I have four kids, so you know that isn't so. What I can say is that I have learned how to cope with my worries a little bit better than when I was kid and for that, I owe my dad.
I remember him tucking me in to bed because my mom worked nights. One night, I was worrying about something at school and couldn't fall asleep. It seemed like every time I closed my eyes, my fears opened up wide to swallow me. A little while later, my dad came to check on me and I was still awake. I was lucky, he could have just told me to go to sleep; lots of parents would have done that, but not him.
He sat down on the edge of my bed and asked me why I couldn't sleep. I told him I was worried, but I don't remember him trying to solve the problem or telling me not to worry (always such useful advice). He simply nodded, stood up and said he knew exactly what to do. He went into the kitchen and came back a moment later with a little brown bag for each of us.
He opened the bag and in a very serious and somber voice told me I should put all my worries into the bag. I just looked at him. Had he gone mad? How could I put my worries in a bag? He said I could write them down, whisper or even shout them into the bag or I could do what he did and just put in my worries with my hands. Then, before I knew what was happening, he opened his own bag and promptly began to fill it. I said he could use my bag if he wanted, but he shook his head.
"Never a good idea to comingle worries." My dad was an accountant, after all.
I must have decided to indulge him, because pretty soon, we were both pouring our worries into the bags. No talking, no advising, just filling the bags. In spite of myself, I smiled. It might sound silly to you, but I actually felt lighter. When we were finished, he closed our bags and sealed them with tape.
"Should we label them, Dad?"
"No need" he answered, "yours are much heavier than mine. I think you must have been growing them for awhile."
Then he told me he would take them out to the balcony and put them under the chair. I could have them back in the morning IF I wanted them, or I could leave them. After a little while, we could compost them in our plants if we wanted to let them go or we could go and get them and bring them back inside.
Worries are always more manageable when we acknowledge them and move them from inside our heads to away from our hearts. In our family, a little brown bag still works really well.
When my own daughter went to camp for the first time, or when she someday soon goes off to college, you can guess what I'll slip into her suitcase. I don't think any of us are too old to need a little reminder that no one has to carry worries all alone. There is something simple we can do to get a little perspective and even a little rest; just pack up your worries in a little brown bag.