Thursday, December 02, 2010

Hanging on? Not me

There's a motivational poster that reads, "When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!" This is of course accompanied by a photo of a suitably adorable kitten clinging to a rope. Something always bothered me about that message, but only in the last few days have I come to understand why. Now you get to understand, too.

Life is tough sometimes. OK, alot of the time, and contrary to what we are told, it doesn't get better just because you work hard or go to church or generally intend well. I remember a high school teacher saying, "99% of what happens to you is in your control." Even at the tender age of 15 I went, "Hmmm" and now at the not-so-tender age of 41, I say, "What the hell was he thinking?" In my experience, most of what happens to you is well outside your control; illnesses strike, layoffs happen, and people die, and there's not a damned thing you can do to prevent most of it. And it sucks. It just sucks. The only real power you have is in your reactions to what comes your way.

Sarah Palin, in resigning the governorship of Alaska, said, "Only dead fish go with the flow." Unsurprisingly, she's wrong, and for the same reason as the hanging kitten poster. You can, of course, white-knuckle your way grimly through life, hoping that as soon as this problem or that problem is over, everything will be fine, but of course there's always another problem just over the hill or hiding behind the hedge. That's the irresistible force versus immovable object approach, and it ends in wrinkles, high blood pressure, and indigestion.

I take a different view. When the wind blows up, I don't stand tall and defy it; I adjust my sails and try to use that force to take me where I want to go. Doesn't always work, but I'm a good swimmer, so when my little boat flips over, I paddle around until I get things back in order. Then I look for a friendlier wind, because sooner or later, one always comes along. Just as you can rely upon the bad, so can you expect the good. So, Ms. Palin, I do go with the flow, because the alternative is to swim vainly against the current until you use up your strength and drown. Not this little fish, thank you.

It's true that I have neither wealth nor fame, nor do I have a respectable career or a fancy car. (Hell, I bought my car before Hillary Clinton started wearing pantsuits.) And maybe if I'd refused to go with the flow I'd have some or all of those things. As it is, though, my blood pressure is well within the normal range, I haven't lost my hair to stress, and I sleep at night with an easy heart. If someone had told me twenty years ago that would be the case, I'd have been pretty damn pleased.

So to (finally) come back to that kitten, do you know what I do when I reach the end of my rope? I let go. Sometimes, tying that knot is harder than just taking the fall.


Blogger Amy McWeasel said...

Outstanding, Neil. <3

8:09 PM  

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