For so many of us, as life unfolds, it begins to feel a little like a game of chess. It is never enough to plan for tomorrow; we must stay several moves ahead of the game, planning out aspects of our lives to the umpteenth degree. Parents plan their children’s academic careers while their children are still in diapers. Teenagers begin their lifelong battle with anxiety over becoming a failure before they have a chance to enter puberty, and adults (if they are “smart”) begin to plan their retirement before they are old enough to buy alcoholic beverages legally. We live so far in the future in our planning, in our hopes, in our worries, we tend to miss out on the important little things that happen around us each and every day.
I will be the first to admit that I have been caught up in the future’s game before. It is an easy enough habit to slip into. I always loved the game of chess, and even as a child, I was a natural at the strategy it required. I was never annoyingly competitive the way some people are. I just loved the challenge of out-thinking and out-maneuvering my opponent; surprising them with moves they could not anticipate. I loved learning from my mistakes and my losses, which were many in the beginning but grew fewer and farther between as I gained experience.
I would focus on the game and make sure at all times, I had at least seven moves planned out ahead of where I was. I always tried to anticipate my opponent’s response to each of my moves, planning in turn what I would do next. It was an exhilarating mental exercise. I used these skills when I went to college, and I applied them when I entered the work force. I had every move of my future planned out perfectly, but then life happened.
The one big difference between chess and life is that chess has rules that every strategist must follow. Your opponent can’t knock your pieces off the board or smack you in the face with them. He or she can, but they can expect to be banned from the game. Life on the other hand is not limited by such restrictions. There is no etiquette when life knocks you on your rear-end. It just happens, and all the planning in the world…all of the strategy…cannot prepared you for what you weren’t expecting. You have one of two options when this happens. You can fold…give up…admit defeat…lay down your king and walk away, or you can pick yourself up…wipe off your bloody knees…allow yourself a good cry (if you are me) and start a new course.
I have been knocked down so many times in life, I have a pillow tied to my bottom for good measure. I plan for the future. Don’t get me wrong. I dream of things both big and small. I am a writer. I weave the impossible every day. What I try very hard not to do is allow myself to become so focused on tomorrow that I miss the beauty each day brings. The simple little miracles that uplift the heart and keep you from being eaten with regret if and when tragedy strikes.
No, I didn’t attend a self-help seminar to help me reach this moment of clarity, and I didn’t gain any wisdom from staying at a Holiday Inn Express. I learned the importance of living each day to its fullest and taking each day as it comes by living my life with my dog, Peanut Pumpkin Pie.
Peanut is a nutball…my silly billie girl. She gives me more reasons to laugh in a single day than anything else. She is my happy place, and I have written about her many times, to the joy and perhaps annoyance of others. I have shared her adventures, her antics, her wisdoms and her copious photos. What I have not shared…what has remained my private struggle…has been the many times I have faced losing my precious little girl.
I have always known my time with Peanut would be too short. Dogs don’t live as long as people. We are only gifted with their unconditional love for a short time, but I had always planned on it being at least 15 years of bliss. That was my minimum. The first time I was faced with the possibility of losing her because of her health, Peanut was 3, and I was still a wreck for weeks after she pulled through. She was up and playing with her toys; I was balling my eyes out about how unfair life was. The second episode wasn’t much different. She was fine, living each day as a new day while I was looking into the dark, unknown wondering when the terrible day was going to come along and destroy my happiness forever.
Then, it was my turn to scare my family with illness. That is when I discovered what it meant to take one day at a time. I won’t go into the details of my illness. It really doesn’t matter. It was long. It sucked. It required surgery. That sucked. I was out of work for two months recovering. All the while, my Peanut was there by my side. Each day was a new glorious day for her. It didn’t matter what tomorrow brought. Today was the best day. Mommy was home. I wasn’t leaving. That was all that mattered for her today.
Peanut knew I was sick; catastrophically sick. When she brought me toys, it wasn’t so we could play some rowdy game of tug-o-war or “it’s gettin’ me”. It was so I could rest the toy in my hand, and she could groom it, because somehow she knew that was all I could handle. My recovery was hard, but Peanut helped me get through it one day at a time, without dreading the next day. The next day didn’t matter. All I needed was to get through the day I was in.
Peanut and I got through my illness together. We have gotten through a great many things one day at a time since those days. I have never forgotten the lesson she taught me.
The last time Peanut got sick, I was faced with the possibility of her dying. Her liver and gall bladder were damaged by toxins in a high end dogfood, and we didn’t know if her little body would pull through. I spent every penny I had to save her and then some, wracking up a massive bill with her vet. We did everything modern veterinary medicine offered as a solution. All we could do once the medicines were given and action was taken was wait and pray. I had a choice. I could either fall to pieces and miss whatever time I had left with her, or I could take it one day at a time and relish each moment Peanut and I had together. I chose the later of the two choices.
Peanut wasn’t well enough to play, but I wanted her to have as much interaction with me as I could give her, so I carried her everywhere. I sang songs to her; songs I had made up over the years that had her name in it. I brushed her. I rubbed her ears. I caressed her. I did all of the things I could think of to make her feel the full measure of my love for her. I took one day at a time, and I made sure each day was as full as I could make it. I endeavored as much as was humanly possible to lay down the worries of tomorrow, and I just took one day at a time. Peanut and I are still taking one day at a time.
Life has bopped me in the face so many times since I learned Peanut’s valuable lesson. It feels sometimes like life is challenging my ability to just take it one day at a time. Some days it is easier than others, and there are those moments when I find myself reverting to those old habits of plotting my moves far into the future. Then little Peanut comes along with a toy or a scrunchie or a happy sock, begging me to remember the joy in the day that God has given me. I look at her smiling little face I find so utterly irresistible, and I lay my strategizing down once again. I never regret the surrender; at least I haven’t so far. It has gotten me through too many other challenges that life has thrown my way.
Leave it to a dog to teach mankind what true happiness is all about.
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