Almost every day I put leashes on my black dog and my white dog (and, if she feels up to it, I put a leash on my black, white an brown dog) and we head out to whatever adventure we can have within the compass of my bad-but-could-be-worse knee. The terrain we hike and the distance we cover are a quietly dramatic contrast to past hikes and past distances. I am OK enough with that. It is the way it is. My choices are to keep going and enjoy it for itself (that is called putting a good face on it) or be unhappy with the contrast to my abilities twenty years ago. If nothing else, when you put a good face on something you get a good face. That’s not nothing and I’m glad my family taught me that.
Happiness is like that. In life’s litany of disappointments our challenge is to be happy anyway.
A long time ago, but in my 40s, I sent in a form from the back of Parade Magazine, a Sunday insert in the local paper in many cities across the US. From the form I got an astrological reading — a complete one. I’m not sure about astrology. I’m ambivalent like Jim Morrison in the concert in Boston in 1970, right after singing “Roadhouse Blues,” telling everyone he was a Sagittarius, the, “most philosophical of all the signs” and then immediately saying, “I don’t believe in it. I think it’s a lot of bullshit, myself…” I’m there.
The chart told me I was born with the sun in Capricorn, with Scorpio rising, a lot of stuff in Sagittarius, and the Moon in Venus. It was a pretty meaningless thing all-in-all so I asked my friend Sally to help me read it. As an old hippy who was less likely to believe in anything conventional than she was to believe in some half-baked notion she was up to it.
My chart is full of squares and what you want are triangles. Squares are open on one end which “means” that the thing doesn’t come together. In my chart, the things that don’t come together were love, family and career.
There is no way to call this a “self-fulfilling” prophecy. I was already well along my way before I got this “information.” Already through two marriages, already frustrated in my quest for tenure, in the midst of dealing with the tattered shred of my family — my alcoholic brother, the thing seemed more descriptive than prescriptive at that point.
Stuff completely outside of my control happens all the time everywhere. Just one small example, in 2001 I was slated to take a group of students to Paris for a month. I was in the middle of prepping, coordinating with the guy from the other college with whom we had a joint program. We were supposed to leave in January, 2002. But what happened instead was the World Trade Center was attacked and the two colleges decided “Oh no, traveling overseas is too dangerous!” and canceled the program.
Everyone’s life is filled with disappointment. Most of us survivors know there’s no point dwelling on it. Nietzsche’s words, “That which doesn’t kill us makes us strong,” might well be paraphrased as, “That which doesn’t kill us obliges us to put a good face on it.”
This morning, after another disappointment along the lines of the previous ones, I thought of that chart. I’m experiencing the contrast between my (somewhat tenuous) excitement over my novel coming out in a month and, once again, putting a good face on a big disappointment. At least I know how! 😉
And there’s still hope. Maybe my spit sample will end up revealing that my great-great grandmother was a Nez Perce or something cool like that.