Gospel is sound according to Alfred E. Neuman

As a writer, I spend many hours in front of the computer every day.

If someone wants to communicate with me, e-mail and instant messaging online are a sure bet most days. Most instant messaging services use avatars or images that each user gets to pick to reflect his or her own personality. My father-in-law, Mark, has a picture of Mad magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman.

“Who’s that?” my son, Mattias, asks.

“That’s Alfred,” I tell him.

“What does he do?”

“Not much,” I answer, after thinking a moment.

“What does he say?” says Mattias.

“He says, ‘What, me worry?'”
“Why doesn’t he worry?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I guess he doesn’t have too much to worry about.”

If only we could learn from such wise words as, “What, me worry?”

The recent collapse of a major bridge in Minneapolis was a tragedy, though it has resulted in the loss of fewer lives than once anticipated. Regardless, bridge-related news has dominated the national media for days, which has resulted in a ripple effect at local levels.

On “Colorado Matters,” a radio show, a structural engineer was interviewed about the flood of inquiries the incident had triggered statewide and elsewhere about the state of bridges across Colorado. When asked if he believed this was a frenzy that would pass within days or weeks, he responded dismissively.

“Of course it will,” he sighed. “Something else will come along for us to worry about and we’ll be off on that tangent.”

This spring, there was an outbreak of concern over contaminated vegetables. Then there was the story about dangerous substances in our pet food, followed by a lead paint scare in children’s toys. Before all of this came scores of other matters to occupy the worry centers in our brains, and before the year is over, dozens more will surface.

As someone who not only has a child and pets, but who also enjoys the occasional vegetable, sometimes while driving over my favorite bridge, I can find some personal connection with each of these stories. If I choose, I can use this as fuel to stoke the embers of worry that always glow within me, as they do in all of us.

If we’re not worrying about West Nile or hantavirus, then we’ll find someone else to worry about. Is Nicole Richie too thin? Is Oprah too fat? Will Lindsay’s latest trip to rehab really stick this time? Is Britney a good mom? Will Brad and Jennifer ever get back together?

So much to worry about, so little time.

It’s been said that worry is a mild form of agnosticism. This suggests that when we take on the worries of the world, we’re basically working above our own pay grade. We worry about things over which we have no control, or worse, we worry instead of doing something about those things at the source of the worry.

It’s enough to make a person wonder if, just maybe, we actually kind of like to worry.

There’s a Buddhist saying that goes, “If there is a problem and there is nothing you can do about it, don’t worry about it. If there is a problem and there is something you can do about it, don’t worry about it.” The point is, let go of those things beyond your reach, and change those causing you agitation, but worry in itself is an obsessive waste of energy.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a simple prayer seven decades ago that endures today with as much truth as the day it was penned. His three-part prayer reads, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I doubt Niebuhr was a subscriber to Mad magazine, but I bet he would appreciate Alfred E. Neuman’s attitude.

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