Dani Shapiro
March 24, 2013

On Anxiety

As I write this I am lounging on an enormous bed––whatever  size is larger than King––in an antique filled bedroom high above the Amalfi Coast.  It’s mid morning on Palm Sunday in Positano.  The doors to my terrace are flung open.  In the distance, the Le Galli islands rise like humps of a primordial sea creature in the distance.  Bells clang  in the village square.

Morning at Le Sirenuse

It is the end of a week of teaching.  Of spending time with some of my favorite people in the world.  Of making new friends, delving deeply into the work of people who began the week as strangers and ended the week with hugs and tears.  It’s always this way at Sirenland, but somehow this year feels even more poignant to me.  We have been coming here for seven years now.  My son has grown up in this hotel.  The lovely people who work here feel like family when we arrive.  And nowhere in my life do I feel, more acutely, the passage of time.

This morning, when the last of the cars left the hotel’s driveway to make the long, windy trip from Positano to Naples, and the last of our friends waved goodbye — departing for London, Paris, Rome, and eventually for the States, I realized that I have somehow become a person who worries less.  I’m not quite sure how this has happened.  Anxiety has defined my inner landscape for so much of my life.  You might say that it has driven me — as a writer, as a wife and mother.  Certainly it has been central to my subject matter.  But now–in midlife–it has vanished.


Travel safe, I say to my friends.  See you next week in New York.  Or next month, in the Berkshires.  Or over the summer, in Provincetown.  Or next time my husband and I are in Los Angeles.  Or next year, back here in Positano.

Poo, poo, poo, my grandparents and parents used to say.  Or Kain Ayin Hora –a Yiddish expression meant to ward off the evil eye.  The idea was: don’t ask for too much.  Don’t make assumptions about the future — especially not happy assumptions.  A peasant version of God willing, or please God, or any of those other familiar expressions.

But as I said goodbye to my friends this morning, and as I prepare to make the trip home with Michael and Jacob–airports, multiple flights, the kind of thing that used to fill me with paralyzing dread–I search myself for signs of the old terror…and find none.

This is not in any way because I am less aware of life’s fragility.  It may even be because of a heightened awareness that this–this morning, this blue, blue morning, these clanging church bells, my husband standing on the balcony overlooking the sea, my son who I swear has grown an inch on this trip, the friends and their children who have also grown up at Sirenland, the call from my 96 year old uncle about an upcoming birthday celebration for him (his wife called it “wow plus one!”)–this is it.  The whole megillah.  In the human catastrophe, this very moment is one of peace and tranquility and hope.

Will it always be so?

Of course not.

But it is precisely what we have today, at this moment.