Sunday, December 11, 2005

Choosing the right story

As humans we are driven to connect the dots, to try to make a story from the stuff of event and experience. We choose the story that pleases us, whether one that involves a higher being directing our lives, one that puts the individual firmly in control of his or her own life, or one that takes direction only from other people. Even the view that all events are independent, random blips, that there is no story is a kind of story, just as random splashes of paint on canvas can be a kind of art.

Some of us spend much of life blissfully unaware that we are living in our own dramatic creation until something happens to jolt us out of it, perhaps an illness or a spouse who suddenly rewrites their own story line and shoves us onto a different path as well. And some of us are uncomfortably aware of how easy it is to make different stories of the same raw material.

Sometimes we change our stories at different times of life. I lived through periods when I could not see past depression, and that is a kind of sick, weary, misdirected story. It is a sad thing to believe the world is random, or worse, to believe the deck is stacked against you. I lived through periods unsure of a belief in God, then as if I had walked through a revolving door, that changed for me, although I am uncomfortably aware that for more serious and faithful souls, that gift is sometimes withdrawn. Still, faith is a gift for which I am grateful today and for as long as I have it.

It is important to have respect for our stories. We cannot force the world to live according to what we wish to see. Denial is a short term fix, although one that can appear to be a powerful cloak against truth. To those who counsel making lemonade of lemons, I say instead learn to appreciate the lemon and its meaning in your life.

I come from a line of story-telling people. Not much gets written down, at least not as far as I know, but there are many, many stories of funny, sad, hopeful, and triumphant events, all of which seem to have happened to relatives. There are a few disgraceful ones, too, but very few, because it is the way in my family to keep darkness away by pretending it is not there. And because we embrace and celebrate hope and light. I still want to write a novel called Story Wars, which would be about big battles of dark and light, alongside siblings’ battle to top each others tales.

Recently I finished reading a lovely book called Sight Hound by Pam Houston, a book I wish I had written. She does a good job of writing the same events from different perspectives, showing the stories of different people interact in specific times and places, and also how sometimes the story changes, and it is time to move on. But the real passion and brilliance of her book is in capturing what it is like to love a dog.

Each dog, she says, has something different to teach us. It is our joyful task to discern what that is. In the book, old wolfhound Dante taught his human Rae how to be loved, and young Rose is to teach her how to play, both important lessons that Rae can only learn at the appointed time in her life.

I can see the same truth in my dogs. Max has taught me dignity and self-respect, how to growl when necessary, how to flirt and how to be a little goofy. Toby has taught me what it is like to be loved completely and unconditionally. Those lessons will be with me all my life and likely long past the ends of their lives. Thinking of how much they have taught me—and at exactly the right time in my life—makes it a little easier to think of losing these old, beloved friends.

Is this view of them, this story a construct that creates meaning out of thousands of walks to the park, squabbles over kibble, and cuddles on the sofa? Yes. But it is a story in which I perceive truth, at least for now. Will I ever come to accept different story in which they are only dogs, only pets, weak substitutes for having more people in my life? I hope not. I like this version, sappy as it may appear to those who have not had the blessing of dogs in their life.

As for Miss Cassandra, I wonder what she will teach me. For now, I am enjoying watching her learn to be part of the pack and learn from the old boys what they think I will need from her in years to come.


Robert said...

I wonder if all dog lovers see their hounds as teachers. Looking back, I see that the dogs in my life have been teachers, though I don't think I understood it as well as I do now after reading your post.

Jean said...

I must get Sight Hound. Read Pam Houston's book of essays, 'A Little More About Me' this year and loved her fierce, fluent, moving writing.