I’m writing this Tuesday. I thought it was important to date this column because things are changing so fast.
I got up this morning, watched a snippet of the news, decided there was nothing I could do and that the best idea was to walk our dogs. They were nipping at my heels with excitement as soon as I put on my running shoes.
It was cold, but the rising sun was just beginning to warm the air.
Walking out the door, the dogs were all in. There were a thousand smells, other dogs to bark at and even a rabbit. Nellie, our 8-year-old Berner, took it all elegantly in stride. Maisie, our little, but fierce terrier-chihuahua mix, really wanted to go after the rabbit. She strained at the leash, seeing herself as a wolf, even though she is all of 12 pounds.
Dr. George Sheehan, one of the early running gurus, wrote, “Never trust a thought come to while sitting down.”
I have tried to abide by that wisdom. When things are tough or seemingly out of control, I walk. The dogs are the best companions because they are so in the moment that it helps me keep perspective. I try to see the walk as they see it, the best part of the day, a chance to be outside on a beautiful New Mexico morning.
So we walked and I let my thoughts ramble.
These last few days have been a reminder of one of the fundamental lessons the universe teaches: stuff happens. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor, liberal or conservative, or how busy or beloved we are: Stuff happens. Boxer Mike Tyson famously said that everyone has a plan until they get into the ring and get punched in the mouth. Well, we just got punched in the mouth.
It happens out of the blue, often with little warning. To think otherwise, to believe that we are magically protected or that we have it all under control is an illusion. The dawning truth of the last few days is that we have little under our control.
I don’t think of that as troubling or depressing; it is just the way the universe works, and it is how life has worked. Wishing it were otherwise is like trying to wish away gravity.
All we can control is how we choose to respond to what happens. We can choose to be calm, while all around us people are hoarding toilet paper. We can choose to help others instead of obsessing about ourselves.
Even though we are social distancing, we can stay in contact with friends and relatives and help them stay calm.
We walked. Maisie tugged at her leash, eager for the next smell.
Nellie trailed behind, having been down this road a thousand times.
I thought about the other thing that crisis illuminates. We learn to really appreciate the now, this moment, this walk, knowing that the future (as it has always been) is uncertain.
A Zen story. A Zen monk is being chased by a tiger. He comes to a cliff and sees the only way down is a large vine that trails down off the cliff into the fog below.
The monk immediately begins to climb down the vine. To his horror, he looks up and notices the tiger is climbing down after him. He looks down the vine and notices there is a boa constrictor, the largest one he has ever seen, climbing up the vine toward him. A tiger above and a snake below. Then, he notices on the vine a beautiful strawberry. He pauses, picked the strawberry, eats it and enjoys it.
It feels as if we are surrounded by tigers and snakes, but we can also appreciate that at this moment, we are alive and well. We can enjoy the strawberry.
As we turned to go up our driveway, both dogs patiently waited for me to catch up. And I thought about one last thing, probably the most important thing that a crisis can teach us. That is to be kind.
A lot will happen over the next few weeks or months. We will be stressed and stretched.
But through it all, we can be kinder to each other. We can take care of each other. We can remember that in times of trouble, we are responsible for each other.
Be brave. Be kind. Be useful.