Monday, October 25, 2004

Hostages to Fortune

My life is simple. I live alone, with two large dogs. I have nobody to please or fuss over. Yes, it is sometimes lonely, but that is not the point of this piece. The point is that even the simplest life gets complicated in the twitch of an eyelash.

“He who hath a wife and children has given hostages to fortune.” That’s Sir Francis Bacon. If we care, we open ourselves up to hurt, disappointment, and grief.

I already dread losing my dogs to old age. I fuss too much. Although they are nine (Toby) and eleven (Max), they are active, sometimes too active when it comes to porcupines and manure.

Back when I was married, I felt the same way about my husband, and you know, my fussing and solicitude didn’t change anything in the course of events. I lost him anyway. Not in the sense of doing something terrible that made him move away from me. Not in the casual sense of having mislaid him somewhere. No, the truth is that we lost each other, and twenty years later, I don’t know if it had to be that way or not. But that’s how it was.

And whatever else it was, it was a loss. I have no children, only dogs and foster dog and foster puppies on the way. I can’t even imagine how parents live with fear for their children. I can’t. Life must seem like one huge continuous falling off a log into open space.

Living alone, moving every few years, traveling light would seem to be a prescription for avoiding the frightening prospect of misfortune. Misguided solicitude sometimes leads people to feel sorry for me, living alone as I do.

I am here to tell you that while solitude has its attractions, safety is not among them. In a heartbeat, I am drawn into the lives of others, whether my friends, my family, my staff, my colleagues, or little Miss Nell, who needs a place other than the shelter to be pregnant. On the contrary, I am working hard to learn how to have good boundaries, to let in only those I want to let in. When it comes to entanglements, there is no place of safety other than steadfastly shutting others out. As a temporary measure for regaining equilibrium, that might work, but it’s no long term formula for happiness.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is to choose who we let in and on what terms—then once they are close by, all argument and reasoning is meaningless.

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