It’s getting harder and harder to keep a positive attitude these days. This past weekend’s bombings in NYC and New Jersey, the stabbing in Minnesota, the hateful, cynical rhetoric of this presidential election campaign—I’ve had more than my share of insomnia recently. One day last week I had trouble focusing on my work. I know I need to turn off the news, but I can’t seem to break away from it all. My fight or flight instincts are on overdrive—not a good state of mind, with real potential to impact my health.
So I was glad for a great diversion on Monday that gave some renewed perspective. I took the day off from work to drive up to New Hampshire (even as I was listening to updates on the NYC bomber manhunt) for the Bearded Collie Club of America’s National Specialty Agility Trial. A good friend of mine has two beardies—bright, exuberant, long-haired dogs with herding instincts and personality plus—and she is seriously involved in championship competitions.
I’ve never been to a dog competition, let alone one in agility, which involves leading the beardie through a course of hurdles, fabric tunnels, bridges, obstacles and teeter-totters. The rules and scoring are complicated. Preparation requires hours and hours of practice and an ocean of patience. The dogs are very smart and clearly have minds of their own. While they can run with amazing speed and precision, they can also zoom around in circles, run off to the side of the arena to explore, sniff the judge standing in the middle of the course, jump up on hind legs in excitement and bark like crazy.
Such was my friend’s experience when she ran her dog, Mac, through his first event. Despite many perfect practice sessions in recent months, as well as past successes on the ladder to championship ranking, this morning Mac decided to create his own version of the course. He ran this way and that, refused to run the course in order, skipped some of the hurdles, all the while jumping and barking his commentary. A discouraging experience, to say the least.
Plenty of the other dogs did their own thing, too. “How do you get another creature to do what you want?” I mused. “When I figure that one out, I’ll let you know,” quipped my friend. Watching everyone else’s mishaps—even at the national championship level, these dogs are a challenge to control and can be quite comical—we had some good laughs, and she regained her sense of humor and perspective.
And, I’m happy to report, Mac redeemed himself. Later in the afternoon, he ran an event that involved jumping over a lot of hurdles, running over a teeter-totter and threading through a “weaving” obstacle (running back and forth through a row of poles, like a slalom, but on level ground) so perfectly that he took the blue ribbon.
Clearly, we agreed, he could do it if he wanted to. It was all a matter of focus and his emotional reaction to the situation at hand.
It’s no wonder that the dog-trainer relationship is such an intimate partnership. We have so much in common.
On my drive home, as I caught up with the latest political news, I thought about how the narrative we tell ourselves has such an impact on our ability to stay on track and handle life’s many hurdles and obstacles. It’s all so easy to fall prey to the doomsaying that dominates the news media. There are real, substantive reasons for concern and even worry about what’s happening and what will happen next. But the future, by definition, is always an unknown.
We can choose to believe the worst and let our fears run us in circles. Or we can choose to believe that whatever comes, we will confront it with focus, courage and commitment to stay the course of living a life true to our values and all we hold dear.
I’m going to do my best to remember that as Election Day approaches.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.