Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The powerless now

I don't know why I just wrote that story, the one about the dog.  It occurred to me last night, came into my head, kept on bugging me, and my first reaction was, "No." I didn't want to write it. I knew it would end badly. I knew it would be about pain and abuse and powerlessness. I wondered what dark corner of my soul drove me to express all that anguish. 

There's a theory floating around, mostly in these reality shows that I never watch (except Hoarders), that we somehow recreate (and recreate and recreate) the conditions of our childhood, especially the pain and grief. THIS time it's going to be different. It's a dynamic that comes out in relationships. Daddy will be gentle this time, Mommy won't end up in the psych ward, brother won't set fires and go to jail. Or just: I won't be a wimp, I won't be unpopular, THIS time I'll test myself at home, at work and at play, and come up shining.

And you know what happens?


You don't win, because you can't. Childhood may be the template for adulthood, but I've started to think our only hope of being happy (unless we've been incredibly blessed with a happy childhood and unconditional love) is to shed it, shuck it off. Let it drop off like dead skin or a turtle shell.

I love a certain Bible quote, from Lamentations I think, which I put in one of my comments to good ol' Matt, my most faithful reader: it's all about being "new every morning".

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Oh, so it's the Lord's great love that is new every morning, not us! If we're not so new, then we're obviously made from the crazy-quilt scraps of the past. It's hard to shake, after all. Why did we evolve with such acute memories, and why is the loss of memory considered such a catastrophe? Isn't it really a blessing in disguise?

And yet, and yet. Having said all that, I have a problem with the currently wildly-popular "power of now" theories that purport to solve every problem you ever had. Those psychologists on TV who hold the hands of hoarders as they scream bloody murder at their families say things like, we must live in the moment. "Now" is the only time we have.

That pretty much does away with planning of any kind. There goes your estate, eh? And learning? How can you learn from the past, or from anything for that matter, in a sealed bubble of "now"?

If we always lived in the now, human evolution would not have taken place, or at least not beyond the level of chimps, who are fully capable of ripping the faces off their loving caregivers. We evolved to learn from the past and plan for the future, so we wouldn't bloody starve or get eaten by something bigger than we were.

I've got nothing against the concept of "now", in fact for the most part it beats the pants off the past, except that it doesn't really exist. It could be said, as time slides along, that it's always now (for what other time can it be? The future? The past?). But at the same time, because time does not stand still even for a nanosecond, there is no "now", nothing static, not even a "moment" that we can stand still to apprehend. So if it's always now, and never now, for the love of God, could someone please explain to me: what time is it?

The Story of Skippy

One summer day in the city, a day when nothing out of the ordinary was happening, a puppy was born.

The puppy's family named her Skippy, for no particular reason. She was a creamy-golden cocker spaniel, very sweet-natured and beautiful. The children doted on her, the adults tolerated her, and for a while, everything was good.

But things change. The biggest people in the household, the Mom and Dad, weren't getting along very well. Skippy could hear them screaming at each other, and she crouched down on her belly in dread. One night there was an awful crashing and booming upstairs, and Skippy didn't sleep.

The next day, they told the children they had decided it would be better if Mom and Dad lived in two separate houses. The children knew it was their fault. Skippy wondered if it was her fault. Soon it became apparent that it was.

Neither of them really wanted Skippy. They didn't like dogs, she smelled, her fur had mats, and the vet bills! They argued and argued about who would take Skippy. The children kept their mouths shut in fear that Skippy would be taken away from them.

She was.

First the Mom and Dad thought about giving her to a shelter where she might find a "forever home", but then a friend of theirs, a man with many dogs, asked to take her, and they told themselves it was a good thing.

The children said goodbye to her tearfully. Mom, busy throwing all of Dad's things out on the sidewalk, said they should stop being such babies and keep quiet, so they did.

The man had many dogs. But he had no use for the new dog that cowered in the corner, her tiny stump of a tail wagging in a blur to placate him. Sometimes she peed on the floor, and he slapped her muzzle so hard she could not help but let out a shriek of pain.

Then he'd tie her outside for a long time.

Something happened while she was outside, and it became apparent that Skippy was going to have puppies. The man looked at her like he wanted to murder her. Skippy went under the bed to protect her unborn puppies. They were all she had.

The man had the decency not to harm her during her pregnancy, but when the puppies were born, they didn't look right, as if their father had been a Doberman or Rottweiller. Too bitter mixed with too sweet.

Very early one morning, Skippy noticed her puppies were gone. She never found out where they went. She mourned, whimpering, until one day the man threw something hard at her head.

She stopped whimpering.

But there was something gnawing at her, thousands of centuries of needing human beings to love and pay attention to her. One day she rolled over on her back to expose her belly, and the man kicked her hard. The sound she made cannot be described.

Though it was not like her to abandon her people, one day Skippy took a chance and ran away. She became a dog of the streets. Her survival instincts were sharpened, and when a person approached her she crouched down and let out a low growl.

She became more and more matty, and thinner from eating scraps. It looked bad for Skippy, and some days she just wanted to run in front of a car.

Then something happened. A girl was walking along the street, and saw two enormous liquid-brown eyes peeking out from behind a bush.

She crouched down and said, "Come on, girl. Come on."

It took quite a while for Skippy to come out of the bushes. She didn't know what to expect. But she knew, in a certain doggish way, that children shouldn't be harmed. No matter what the girl did to her, she would find a way to tolerate it.

There was a rope digging deep into Skippy's neck, so she hooked her finger in it and dragged her home. The pads on her feet were hot and sore from planting her legs.

Her mother said, Cindy, I don't know. We can't take in another dog. I think we should take her to the shelter right now. It's the best thing for her. Cindy cried, but did as she was told, knowing that it was her fault.

Skippy knew that it was her fault.

Things were bad at the shelter, all bleach and bars. There were a hundred other dogs there, either barking aggressively or cowering in corners. People came and went, poking and prodding, looking for something that would soon be their property.

Skippy knew that some dogs ended up in wonderful homes, and wondered how to act. She knew she shouldn't hope too much, but hope was the only thing that kept her going.

Then one afternoon, an old woman came into the shelter. Her eyes met Skippy's.

It was love.

It was love, and despite the fact that the old woman didn't have enough money to feed a dog, she took Skippy home, naming her Lady after the dog in the cartoon movie.

This was a home such as Skippy had never known. She truly was treated like a princess. She even wondered if the old lady could get her puppies back.

But then one morning, everything fell still. The old woman didn't get up.

Then came the argument all over again: who will take the dog? No one seemed to want her very badly. She was a burden no one could afford.

Then someone spoke up. A man who had many dogs. The family brushed her carefully, making her look her best. He took her home, put a rope around her neck and tied her to a post in the yard.


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look