Worry Doll

December 17, 2009
I stood, relaxed, at the cash register imagining the kinds of people that were bracing for the cold November night just outside. I was volunteering at Worldly Goods and everything was very peaceful. Worldly Goods is a local nonprofit store that sells hand crafted items from developing nations. The craftsmen get fair trade for their goods, so I usually feel like volunteering there is time well spent. A few people were there but none dared talk louder than “French Café” that was playing sweetly in the background. I liked to imagine that we had to be quiet or else the dark Tuesday-night winds would realize we were safe and sound inside and come after us. I had less than an hour left of my shift so my mind slowly wandered back to the numerous headaches that were waiting for me at home. None of my work seemed doable, and I could already imagine myself sitting at my desk wishing I was as calm and put together as I assumed I looked to the customers at Worldly Goods: just your average girl with enough free time to volunteer. I was just trying to remember if I had ever thought about the life of any cashier I had ever seen when the door opened and a new family stepped in.
It was a woman, a man, and two very young girls, all of whom were bundled up, with bright red cheeks. I welcomed the parents while the young girls ran in, already searching for a new toy or two. They certainly didn’t fear the November winds as their cheery voices bounced along with them while they began searching for an angel to put on top of their Christmas-tree. When the older of the two girls hugged an angel ornament to her heart, claiming it smelled like cinnamon, I suddenly wished that I could stop anything bad from ever happening to her. The little family bobbed admiringly around the many treasures, the parents pointing out fancy Spanish teapots and Turkish mirrors to each other, while the little ones would be excited by toy llamas and little model men on bikes that would pedal when pushed. I didn’t want to seem nosy, but when the mother stopped and began talking to her young girls about a toy that I, too, have memories of, I listened carefully to what she had to say. “The idea of a worry-doll is that right before you go to bed, as soon you can feel your mind drifting away, you whisper to your doll everything that is upsetting you and troubling your mind. Once you’ve admitted your worries, you place her under your pillow, and then, while you sleep, she will take the burden of worrying from you so that your mind can be free and relaxed. She may even whisper some wisdom to you through your dreams.”

The mother told her girls that she used to have dolls like those when she was little, and that if they wanted, she would buy each of them one of their own. The little girls were delighted with the idea of the doll, but I found it obvious that it was the mother who wanted one the most. Over the next few minutes she kept coming back to them, and continued mentioning them to the girls, to keep them interested, I imagine. She looked down at the little string and wood doll with a look of recognition and appreciation that I’m sure came straight from her childhood. I wondered what worries she whispered to her doll when she was little, and what they would be if she had one to whisper to now. I wanted to walk up to her just then and tell her that a worry doll isn’t just for children, that the doll would never think she was too old, and that she would listen, and carry her worries for her just the same as when she was younger. When the little family left, they bought one cinnamon angel, and three worry dolls. I imagine the little girls just ended up playing with theirs, making them go on adventures with their other toys, and creating all sorts of exceptional stories, which is itself a way of letting go of worries. The mother, however, at least I hope, got the third doll for herself, to keep under her own pillow at night.

Though this sweet, cheerful family was, in a way, a distraction for me from my own issues, they also reminded me that everyone has worries. Everyone feels insecure, stressed, and doubtful sometimes, and that’s ok. What is important is that you have a way of dealing with those feelings and that you are able to persevere in spite of what you feel is holding you back, and that’s why we have worry dolls.

It wasn’t until nearly a month later that I truly realized this. It was a Saturday-morning and I was back in Worldly Goods, just stopping by to shop this time. Like usual, my mind was clouded by all of the things I expected myself to complete that day, going over and over again everything that had to be finished, and that I didn’t know how to do, It was when I looked down and saw the basket of worry dolls that I realized what I was really doing. I wasn’t coming up with a plan for getting things done, I was telling myself I wouldn’t be able to, filling myself with panic and insecurities when I should have been boosting myself up and deciding what to do. I immediately thought back to the day I saw a mother look at these same dolls and decide that she wasn’t going to worry anymore. That’s what the dolls are, they represent letting go of what you can let go of, and calmly dealing with those worries you have no choice but to face. It’s impossible not to worry sometimes, but when I left Worldly Goods with a new worry doll, I made the choice not to let my worries consume me.

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