Some guy-type buddies of my youth lived for a time in a veritable garden spot that they lovingly, if misguidedly, referred to as The Ranch. If you’ve ever been to the South and taken a drive down a country road, you’d have spied out in the middle of a field an old abandoned shack. This place was an absolute hovel. I have no idea if they even paid rent; there’s an excellent chance they were merely squatting. But it suited them just fine. They held huge wild parties, thinking themselves to be invisible out there. I guess they didn’t believe anybody would think it curious that there were a couple hundred cars parked around this shack in the middle of nowhere.
Anyway, a stranger came to their door one day. He was singularly unattractive — very little hair covering his hideous sore-wracked skin, just generally ratty and nasty looking. But, as is often said of the unbeautiful of the world, he had a great personality. He came to be known as “FunkDog,” because he was, in fact, a dog, and he was really funky. He came around regularly, and the boys would feed him and talk to him, but no one could quite bring themselves to actually touch him. And so they started this thing of petting FunkDog with a small stick. He would come and sit at a respectful distance, I guess knowing himself to be unclean, and eagerly await being petted and scratched with his stick. That image always just made me want to bawl, and now I think I know why.
I think FunkDog being petted with his stick is a perfect metaphor for what can happen to any of us in this life if we don’t pay attention. In any area of our lives, things can go from great, to not so hot, to down righy unspeakable, and do it so gradually that we keep downshifting our expectations to correspond with our current situation. We settle for less and less and tell ourselves, “It’s not so bad,” until finally one day we wake up and we are, in effect, hairless and scabby, just hoping to get petted with a stick for a little while. You can forget what it used to feel like to feel good about life; feeling rotten — or just a low-grade funk — seems normal and therefore acceptable. I just don’t believe that any of us are meant to be petted with sticks. If some area of your life sucks — do something else. Life is too short — and too long — to spend it being miserable. Life may indeed be short, but it is, for a fact, wide. It is high time we started settling for more.
-Jill Conner Browne
The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love
Physicists will tell you that the only eternal truth is entropy — left to itself, a system changes toward a condition of maximum disorder and utter chaos. Experience tells me otherwise. Change is resisted even in the throes of chaos. On an intellectual level, acceptance is learned. We acknowledge that things change, disappear, transform, or are lost. On an emotional and spiritual level, inertia reigns. We lament what has changed, miss what has disappeared, sentimentalize what is transformed, and grieve what is lost. Like a man who has lost a limb, the thing that is gone remains a part of you. The beat of its phantom pulse still connects you to what was.
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
Thankfully, what I have done is not my life. Sadly, the life I aspire to is not what I have done. Hopefully, the gap between the two is closing.
There was a bright, shiny toy that he had to have. He was told that the toy was fragile — poorly made, even. But he was undeterred. His relentless, determined effort quickly brought him the thing he so strongly desired. Once his, the toy was given endless hours of his attention and devotion. He loved the toy, he said. It was his favorite and he never wanted another.
Then one day, he noticed a place where the shine had started to rub off the toy. Once he noticed that flaw, he began to see others. He remembered the warning about the nature of the toy. Eventually, all he could see of the toy was its imperfections. Even the parts that were still in their original condition seemed destined to disappoint him if continued to play with the toy.
He began to think of the toy as cheap. Doing so made it easy to despise the toy because what could really be done to take care of it properly? What could really be done at all except to throw the thing away before it fell apart?
After all, there were plenty of other toys out there.
Choice of attention — to pay attention to this and ignore that — is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences.
– W.H. Auden