worry capacity

There is a cool demonstration science teachers do in general chemistry classes where we fill a clear cylinder with water to the top and then carefully add paperclips one by one. Students count the paperclips as they are dropped in until the water spills over the edge. When we’re really careful, we can add dozens and maybe a hundred paperclips before the water molecules break free of their hydrogen bonds (intermolecular forces where the electron deficient hydrogen on one water molecule is strongly attracted to a lone pair of electrons on an electron rich oxygen on an adjacent molecule; like the molecules are holding hands; like molecular magnets) and spill over in a stream of molecules.

Those hydrogen bonds work together to keep the water molecules touching and in the liquid state. All of life depends on hydrogen bonds. Don’t get me going. I seem to have lost my point. Hold on. I’ll remember in a sec.

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Oh, yes. There’s the thread. The final breaking point of those strained hydrogen bonds when the bubble of water hovering above the cylinder finally flows is analogous to the breaking point of worry when we exceed our capacity to keep the lid on tight. Emotions flow. We cry. We lash out. We hurt for the sake of others. The overflow can happen while we sleep. Dreams wake us up and remind us of the stresses we tamp down all day long. COVID. Work. Family. War. While our side of the world points away from the sun the other side of the world bombs each other. Capacity exceeded. The camel’s back can’t take even one more tiny paperclip.

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