Like millions of other children raised in the 1960s, I grew up reading books by Dr. Seuss. One of the most perplexing was the story of Bartholomew Cubbins, a kid who upon encountering an authority figure was supposed to remove his hat as a show of respect.
Well, poor Bartholomew takes off his hat and another one is there to replace it. While reading that story as a child, I sensed the anxiety behind it. We’re all told to respect authorities. Yet here was this kid trying to do things right and circumstance kept messing with him.
I’ve come to realize that Bartholomew’s predicament perfectly captures the daily sensation of anxiety for those who live with it. Those hats symbolize the desire to live in normalcy and not worry about stuff that can’t be controlled. Yet every day we wake up with a new red hat on our heads.
That may not seem such a tough predicament. Some might say, “Suck it up, buttercup!”
Lord knows that those of us with anxiety learn how to remove those hats. Like that tough little bastard Bartholomew, we yank the Red Hat of Anxiety off our heads every damned day knowing it will come right back again. But we persist.
The story of Bartholomew Cubbins bears some relationship to the myth of Sisyphus, the poor dude assigned by the gods to push a rock up a hill only to have it tumble back down again. For eternity.
And to apply another tangent, I well recall studying the concept known as the ‘irreversibility of time’ in a college course called Philosophy of Existentialism. Man did that class mess with my head.
New ways of looking at things
But in many ways. studying the complexities of the mind ultimately freed me to look at my anxiety in new ways. For example, it taught me that while we are all alone in this universe and stuck with our fates, in that respect we are not alone at all. And as I ran all those miles in high school and college and beyond, it served to blow a lot of bad hats off my head.
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
That condition was also captured in a book titled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Those of us that have engaged in that pursuit for many years know that being alone in our running is not as bad as some people make it out to be. Having time to process your thoughts is a really good thing actually. It helps assuage anxiety, if you ask me.
But it is the anxiety of being forced to joust with false brands of authority that really brings out the worst anxiety in people. And when false brands of political or religious or cultural authority impose upon our lives, it traps the spirit within. We feel pressured, forced to perform and anxious about what comes next.
All good in the end
The story of Bartholomew Cubbins turns out alright in the end. But during that phase when he’s tearing hats off his head you really start to wonder what comes next. Will the poor kid lose his head to the king who demands that he remove his hat?
If you study that story, you begin to realize that it’s not Bartholomew that has the problem at all. His anxiety is the direct product of false righteousness and the imposition of authority without reason. Unfortunately, that is how much of the world actually works. So it makes total sense that some of us run into that falseness and find it offensive. But in the meantime, we grow practiced at tearing red hats off our heads every day of our lives.