One of my Christmas presents was Abigail Thomas’ book, A Three Dog Life. It’s a memoir about a woman whose husband’s brain was seriously damaged in an accident. The “three dog life” part refers to a Australian Aboriginal custom of designating the coldness of nights by how many dogs one must sleep with to stay warm, the coldest being a “three-dog.” Abigail’s life with her husband following his accident had the highest level of difficulty comprehensible – hence her title.
I loved this book! Somehow it manages to be cheerful and uplifting in spite of the difficulties encountered by the author. She is disarmingly honest and forthcoming, often with great humor.
In a chapter entitled “The Past, Present, and Future,” Thomas makes the following observation:
“When I was young, the future was where all the good stuff was kept, the party clothes, the pretty china, the family silver, the grown-ups jobs. The future was a land of its own, and we couldn’t wait to get there. Not that youth wasn’t great, but it came with disadvantages; I remember the feeling I was missing something really good that was going on somewhere else, somewhere I wasn’t. I remember feeling life passing me by. I remember impatience. I don’t feel that way now. If something interesting is going on somewhere else, good, thank God, I hope nobody calls me. Sometimes it’s all I can do to brush my teeth, toothpaste is just too stimulating.
The future was also the place where the bad stuff waited in ambush. My children were embarking on their futures in fragile vessels, and I trembled. I wanted to remove obstacles, smooth their way, I wanted to change their childhoods. I needed to be right all the time, I wanted them to listen to me, learn from my mistakes, and save themselves a lot of grief. Well, now I know I can control my tongue, my temper, and my appetites, but that’s it. I have no effect on the weather, traffic, or luck. I can’t make good things happen. I can’t keep anybody safe. I can’t influence the future and I can’t fix the past.
What a relief.”
Of course, this is not the whole picture – I believe we can, in some ways, influence things – but for people like me who tend to be too willing to take up “responsibility,” who are often tempted to try to impose some minimal scope of control on situations, this is a refreshing reminder. Thomas seems to be saying “Mind your own little piece of the pie; leave everyone else’s to them.” Implicit in that, too, is – ta da! – Lighten up! Worry less, enjoy more.
Okay – off to try to heed my own words! Taking the day off in search of a movie, some fresh air, leaving the “to-do” list safe on my desk to revisit tomorrow. Or maybe the next day . . .