Some look at life’s journey as a pitched battle, and some as a noble quest. Either way, a smart knight should be prepared for the dragons he or she is bound to encounter along the way. My weapon of choice is a feather duster.
It has only snowed once so far this weird winter. I took advantage of the unlooked for boon of ice-free roads here in the country last week and went for a walk. My mood was somber as I set off down the road, well bundled against the bracing cold. I needed the lift that nature always gives me because I felt lower than I have felt in a long time.
I was thinking about my dear cousin, Moe. She’s experimenting with multiple chemo treatments, locked in mortal combat with the cancer that has spread despite her efforts. We recently learned that her husband, Paul, a great guy and one of the funniest people I know, has been struck with a serious, as-yet-undiagnosed neuromuscular disease.
I thought about my beloved sister, Lib. She has been living with a brain tumor for more than 3 years and a couple of new, small spots showed up on her latest scan. She started a course of more aggressive chemo last month.
My mind raced ahead of my brisk steps as I grappled with this question: why do such things have to happen? What does it all mean?
I saw a dark something at the side of the road up ahead at the turn off to a small, grassy lane. When I got close enough I could see that it was a puppy, and he was dead.
He was black with long legs and brown paws that looked too big for his body, gangly the way growing puppies get. He had no obvious injuries and was curled up in a ball as if asleep. I bent down and watched for long moments, hoping, but, no – he was dead. I don’t know if he had been hit by a car, if he froze to death, or if somebody tossed him to the side of the road. I suppose it didn’t matter.
It was too much. It was all too much, and I started to cry.
I straightened and walked away from the little dog, veering onto the side lane. “Why?” I cried out to the still, solitary fields around me. “Why does it have to be like this? Why is life so hard?” Tears filled my eyes and spilled down my icy cheeks. I was blinded as I lifted my face in anguish to the bright, cold sky. Then I tripped over a toilet.
This is not a metaphor.
Some nature lover had dumped a (presumably) used toilet at the side of the private lane, not 20 feet away from the puppy. It could have been the same dip-wad for all I knew.
The exquisite absurdity of the situation struck me as I lay on the frozen ground. Here I was, working myself up to the finale of A Grand Scene, played for an audience of none, full of I’m-ready-for-my-close-up-Mr.-DeMille high drama and instead, I get knocked on my bum. It seemed life had cast me, not as Norma Desmond, but as one of the Keystone Cops.
I started to snigger.
I thought about an incident Moe had related along with her latest, lousy medical news. How she and Paul had been talking quietly in bed about their problems and he turned to her solemnly and said, “Well, at least we still have our health.”
I started to laugh.
I thought about an inside joke that Lib and I have shared since her diagnosis, a recycled gag about what is funny and what’s not. We deliver the lines together in a sing-song voice: “Cancer… not funny. Dead puppies… not funny.”
That schtick ran through my head and the timing of it, the absolute rightness of it right here and now, set me off even more. I was still crying, but now the tears were from laughter.
I believe in God. I believe that this life is just a prelude to the next, and what happens to us there is determined by what we do here. Maybe you believe likewise – I hope you have the comfort of faith – but maybe you don’t. Perhaps you figure that this go-round is all we get. Whatever you believe, my point is this:
We don’t get to know.
We ponder, we anguish, we reason, we work and we pray but in this life, on this earth, some things can’t be fixed, and we don’t get to know why or what it means.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t try – Lord, no. I’m firmly behind the seekers, the dreamers and doers looking for answers in medicine, theology and other fields, even if much of that effort turns out to be tilting at windmills.
I’m not smart enough to contribute anything to such noble quests. One thing I can do, however, is laugh. It helps.
Everyone has a cross to bear in life. Some are obvious, and some are hidden, but everyone carries one. A smile, a giggle, or a deep, belly laugh is a little bit of grace that lightens the load, if only a smidgen, if only for a short while. I believe that sharing that grace, helping other people to find the funny, is a noble thing. Yes, I said that. It’s sappy and schmaltzy and I mean it. Humor, if not at someone else’s expense, is a good thing and the world needs a whole, hell of a lot more of it.
Let’s lighten up. Let’s give ourselves permission to laugh, even when times are tough, and let’s pass it on. We’ll never know when a shared smile will come just in the nick of time for someone else whose burden has become too heavy.
Life is full of fire-breathing dragons. We can’t slay them all, but maybe we can tickle some of them into submission.