Beware of Dog

Dog and cart

The ancient stoics have this story about a dog who is tied to a cart. The dog can struggle and get dragged through the dirt and gravel, or the dog can trot merrily along. Either way, the cart will move forward. It’s been a while, but if memory serves, the story is a commentary on how foolish it is to struggle against things we can’t change, as opposed to accepting them and moving on.

This dog has not yet learned to trot along merrily. I am the worst, THE WORST at accepting things I can’t change. With a few exceptions, like the laws of physics, I can’t even accept that there are things that can’t be changed. I guess this makes me a very good existentialist, and an epic failure as a stoic. If there’s an opportunity to stay up all night worrying about something, I’m there. If it involves obsessively making lists of possible scenarios, I’m in.  The idea of leaving something important to chance makes me want to kick holes in the wall, and no amount of herbal tea, hot baths, or meditation seems to take the edge off.

So I’m a control freak (well, duh). The “freak” part of this label intrigues me. In most dictionaries, “freak” is defined as something or someone that is abnormal, unusual, or unexpected. Tell me, am I abnormal in the amount of control I want over my life? Am I just cranked up to 11 when it comes to having things go a certain way? Or is it freakish of me to expect that there is control to be had in the first place? Is the universe and everything in it inherently out of control, and I’m a lost cause for not seeing this? If I’m the exception, then what (or who) is the rule? Are there really happy wanderers out there who can be content to just let things happen to them, without complaining?

So, what of the dog who resists the pull of the cart? What happens to her? Well, she spends a bit of time picking twigs and bugs out of her hair, and she has to go to the chiropractor for neck strain. She burns a lot of calories in playing tug of war with a moving, wheeled thing. Resistance is pretty tiring. Eventually the cart stops rolling, either temporarily or permanently. During those moments, however fleeting they may be, she gets the satisfaction of knowing that she probably gained a few inches here or there, made things go a little faster or slower than they would have if she’d just given in. These small victories are hers to claim and celebrate. Most importantly, she gets to go to sleep at the end of the journey thinking “I tried.”

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