I had been driving to work one day (yes, one of those stories), minding my own business and getting my NPR on, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something. A BIG something. A cockroach large enough to transcend its commonplace name and don the illustrious title of water bug, scurried across the floorboard on the passenger side, and out of sight. I attempted and succeeded to not vomit and crash the car all at once (or at all). For the rest of the drive I obsessed over where it was, what it was doing, and how it had gotten in my car, the cozy me part of it, in the first place. I spent the next 20 minutes stomping my free foot on the ground and slapping my seat, hoping to scare it away from me. Because it and all its exoskeletal, “We are the Champions” nature of cockroaches was far more frightening than the fact I would win on the sheer basis of mass. Ever aware of the shoulder of the freeway and the maneuvering I’d have to do to pullover, I made it to work without seeing the unwanted companion again.
A colleague and friend graciously tried to ferret out the little beast, and rid my car of its presence, but it was no where to be seen. After vacuuming the car, and placing roach traps in it, the cockroach dominated my thoughts. I had to know what I was dealing with with, so I researched its kind. Did you know cockroaches can eat glue? They can live for a year. Without food they can live up to three months. And without their heads, they can live for weeks. Seriously.
I took to wearing jeans and boots everyday. Whenever I got into my car, I would check the entire interior with greater acuity than a bomb-sniffing dog. I figured if he was going to be in there for a year, I might as well name him. (Earl, if you’re wondering.) Every leaf caught in my vent was Earl. Every bit of trash my tires crunched was Earl.
Then came my first drive up north after the first sighting. I was on a desolate stretch of the I-5, 150 miles from home and another 150 miles from my destination, imagining cockroach eggs hatching and instantly infesting my car. What would I do? Walk to the closest store and buy something to fumigate the thing with?
At some point I realized I had been obsessing and fretting over Earl for months, and yet I had only seen him that one time. Why was I spending so much mental energy on something that wasn’t there?
Earl isn’t the only example of this. Anytime I’ve ever contemplated someone else’s thoughts and feelings about a subject or problem, or relationship, I’ve built elaborate constructs of what’s going on in the other person’s head. Guessing, filling in the details, and building fictional worlds. This generally leads to worry.
Sure, human intuition is a powerful thing, but nothing informs like viewing a situation objectively, and with all the details as they actually exist. Or a straightforward answer to a straightforward question.
I’d rather worry when there’s something to actually worry about, and base my judgements on verifiable evidence instead of imaginary cockroaches (thanks Earl).