December 2, 2007

My father who is 79 lives alone in Bali and I am an only child. If that's not a prescription for Xanax, I don't know what is.

What if something were to happen? What if he were to get bitten in the middle of the night by a spider or poisoned by a mango? This past week, I have been visiting him and I've never worked so hard at controlling my anxiety.

"What's there to worry about in Bali?" He asks. We're driving to lunch in his jeep as he says this so I decide to start there. The seatbelt is broken. Indonesian drivers - mostly on motorbikes - don't seem to pay attention to the dividing line in the road. The one thing I'm not concerned about is if the airbag works. Because there isn't one.

"I never saw anything wrong with this car," he says. "Until you arrived."

My father loves the tropics and the jungle. Jews don't belong in the jungle. The other day I found out there is only one shrink on the entire island. That's got to be a lonely practice. I wanted to make an appointment just to see who's in the waiting room. Probably a New Yorker on holiday. But my father didn't know how to find him. He knew how to find the local masseuse though. I told him it wasn't the same.

Nevertheless, I got a massage. I was stressed out from all the bugs. The bugs in Bali are prehistoric. Cockroaches on steroids. And the spiders. There was a spider in his bedroom that looked like it should be in a cage. I'm still recovering.

The Balinese massage was strong. So strong, I worried I'd need a chiropractor afterwards. And then what if I couldn't find one? I'd be stuck. I wouldn't be able to walk. So I attempted to learn how to say, "careful of my vertebrae" in Indonesian, but it didn't work out. Luckily, my back was fine.

My father and I couldn't be more different. He wakes up every morning excited to start the day. I wake up every morning looking for bug bites I might have gotten while I was asleep. He is always up for new experiences. My idea of a new experience is the spicy tuna roll instead of the salmon cucumber roll.

What's more, he's extremely adventurous. And since he turned 65 it's only gotten worse. He has trekked in Nepal, hiked in China, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, river rafted on the Ayung River in Bali, Run the NYC Marathon and explored the jungles of Kalimantan. He's also been on safari in Kenya, biking in Tuscany, trekking in the Dolomites and Zermatt. He also did a triathlon on Christmas Island and climbed Mount Gunung Agung, a volcano.

What have I done? Not much. I cleaned out my medicine cabinet. And thought about taking up boxing. For every adventure he's had, I have a phobia to match it.

Which leads me to wonder: where did he go wrong?

All of this optimism, it can't be healthy. His refusal to look on the dark side means every day is filled with one positive thought after another. It's difficult to be around that all the time.

But that's the problem with optimists. They fail to consider anyone else. Day in, day out, it's the same old litany of joyfulness. Life is a gift. Take every day as it comes. It's exhausting.

The more I think about it, the more I realise how important it is to worry. Without worrying about the worst-case scenario, how would we prepare for things like illness, tragedy and death?

When I first arrived in Bali I couldn't eat and didn't feel well. My heart was racing and I had to lie down. I asked my father to sit at the edge of the bed and I took his hand. For the next 45 minutes I told him everything I was worried about. After that, I felt better. My heart rate had slowed and my appetite returned. Worrying is my yoga.

Naturally he's not a worrier. And he doesn't get bitten by mosquitoes either. But even more disturbing is that he believes the two are connected.

"So what are you writing your column on this week?" He asked. "You," I replied. And then, finally, it happened. He looked like he had something to worry about.