Friday, January 1, 2016

Would It Help?

I recently saw the excellent film, Bridge of Spies. In the movie, which is based on a true story, Tom Hanks plays a lawyer, James Donovan, who defends Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy. A couple of lines from the movie particularly resonated with me. Given the title of this blog post, you won't be surprised which ones.

When Donovan meets Abel shortly after his arrest. Abel seems calm and unconcerned about his dire situation. Donovan, perplexed by this, asks, "Aren't you worried?" Abel replies, "Would it help?" This exchange becomes a humorous refrain throughout the film. Later, Donovan asks more pointedly, "Do you never worry?" Abel's reply is still the same.

These exchanges are oddly endearing and signal a growing respect between the two men. To me, they also signal an unattainable state of mind. If only I could make a decision not to worry and stick with it for more than a nanosecond.

After I saw the film, I found myself imagining the life of a spy. Clearly, not being a worrier would help. Spies, after all, live in constant danger of discovery, arrest, or even death. Not only would worrying not help; it might create a self-fulfilling prophesy, since any outward sign of anxiety — worried glances, furtive looks, trembling hands — could give them away.

I'm a fan of the AMC series, The Americans. Watching it, I'm often amazed that the Russian spy couple, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, can make it through five minutes, let alone their entire lives, without being (literally) consumed by worry. The "otherness" of the characters is partly what I love about the show. There couldn't be people more different from me than the Jennings, unless perhaps undercover narcotics agents or Formula One race car drivers.

As surprising as it may seem (to me at least), many regular people (and one I actually live with) aren't worriers. They care as much about their friends and family as I do, but if they're concerned about an issue whose outcome they can't control, they're somehow able to put their worry into a secret compartment (secret to me, anyway), and get on with their lives. Why worry if it won't help?

I'm so not one of those people. Even when those I love are healthy, I worry that they might get sick. If someone I care about has a job interview, I worry that he or she will be rejected. If I'm planning a long drive on a beautiful day, I worry about brake failure and sun glare. Okay, not really. Well, maybe just a little.

My guess is that a person like Rudolph Abel could no more choose to worry than I can choose not to. Still, this being New Year's, I'm tempted to make a resolution to worry less in 2016. But would it help? Not likely.


  1. Barbara,
    From one worrier to another, this is a great post.

  2. I am so with you, Barbara, on the worry thing. Nice to see your writing again.

  3. Bertrand Russell wrote in his autobiography that as a youth he was fraught with worry, but then realized that anything that might happen in the grand scheme would be of such little consequence that it wouldn't matter. He claimed that he stopped worrying then. I once talked with someone in the early days of AIDS. He said waiting for the test results was excruciating, but finally learning about his death sentence was exhilarating. He had been liberated, in a sense.

  4. Love your sense of humor, Barbara!

  5. I have missed reading your writing. Delighted To start the new year seeing you in print again!

  6. This certainly tickled my funny bone, and I suspect in the next few days I will often find myself pausing to savor the image of you as a Formula One driver! Ginna

  7. My mother had a handy refrain that was a variant on the one you describe in the film: "I'll worry tomorrow." I used to think this expressed a refusal to get emotionally involved. Now, I think it's a terrific goal: only to allow yourself to worry about calamities that actually happen, rather than ones that only might happen. Of course, disciplining yourself to do it is another thing altogether!
    So great to see you posting again.