Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Life Wisdom Inspired By Man's Best Friend

Hey Readers,

Last night I finished up Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have To Do It, a short but impactful book by the actor / comedian and dog enthusiast, John O'Hurley. This book was an interesting mix of pet stories, memoir, self-help, philosophy, humor and letters-from-a-father-to his-son writings all in one. O'Hurley uses the premise of his elderly Maltese dog, Scoshi, writing notes to O'Hurley's then newborn son, William, and leaving them under William's giant blue stuffed animal. O'Hurley "finds" these notes (in which Scoshi discusses his observations on human behavior, offering life advice - from his perspective - that he thinks baby O'Hurley might find useful some day) and expands on Scoshi's thoughts with his own life experiences and lessons learned.

O'Hurley also mentions his Black Lab - Daschund mix, Betty here and there (and after first reading this description, my initial reaction was HOW is that even possible??? Only if the father is the daschund side, I'm guessing!)

O'Hurley with wife Lisa, son William (shortly after his birth in 2006)
and dogs Scoshi (white) and Betty (black)

There were so many good bits of wisdom and humor in this book, so for this post I was inspired to make some jpeg art around my favorite quotes. I definitely recommend this to any animal lovers out there (or anyone needing some good life advice!). I found O'Hurley's words pretty inspiring myself.  Enjoy:

Text on above pic:

I witness a sad and gradual homogenization of America. Great cities that once had specific identities are almost indistinguishable, made identical by layers of malls, restaurant chains, and civic centers. Small towns, too, with Main Streets, barbers and toy stores, surrender to the sterile inevitability of Wal-Mart. We are losing our precious sense of place. We are moving in to pre-packaged communities, where every home looks the same. If you can’t figure out how to decorate your living room, you can go next door and see how they did it. The humor in that observation makes me sad. The irony of this shift is that it is not, at its heart, ill-intended. I think people want ease of living and ease of thinking. It is indeed the ease of economics to move all the stores from Main Street inside the controlled environment of a mall, or to ease them out altogether with a more economical super-department store. It is the ease of economics that builds all the homes at once from the same template and calls it, ironically, a development. It makes more homes available to many. It is even the ease of economics to eat pre-fabricated food at restaurant chains. But ease comes at a cost, in my personal view, both individually and collectively as a culture. We can shop at the same stores and eat at the same restaurants. We can wear the same logos on our shirts and jeans. Ironically, the person whose name is logo-ed there doesn’t know who we are or perhaps even care, and yet we wear the name proudly as a badge…. As we submit to the synthetic, to the artificial, and to the prepackaged experience, I fear we are surrendering the chance to live authentically. And this is where I must, as a father, raise the flag of worry.

I am reminded of an area near the house in which I lived in West Hartford {Connecticut} when I was ten. It consisted of a series of empty lots that were never developed and left to overgrow. These several acres of bushes and trees were known by all as The Bumps…Every child in the neighborhood lived at the Bumps. Home was only where you went to eat and sleep. Almost every important moment of my life happened there that year. It was more than where I played. It was where I met my best friends, where I learned how to hide, where I got hurt, where I built a fort, where I learned to fight and where I learned to negotiate. The Bumps was a discarded place, but an authentic place because on any given day it could become anything or anyplace, whatever our imaginations demanded. How ironic that a site so neglected and so common supported so much life. The Bumps are gone today. I visited the area on a recent trip back to my hometown. A half dozen homes now stand on that hallowed ground. A perfectly paved road now cuts the area in half. There is no evidence of the field that was once there, and no evidence of the ghosts of youth that held it so precious. In today’s erosion of the authentic, places like the Bumps have become forgotten fields. Sadly, from what I have witnessed, they no longer seem necessary. They have been replaced, not by homes, but, in my opinion, Will, by video games – which buffer youngsters from any need for human contact, from any use of imagination, and render an authentic moment all but possible. The dungeons we created in the Bumps and the dragons we imagined were far more authentic than those on a video screen. I am reminded of the Bumps when I remember that while the authentic can be destroyed, it cannot be created. 

Text on above pic:

We tend to think of the inequity in life from the perspective of the have-nots rather than the haves. Sometimes we do get more than we deserve. I often wonder what life would be like if it were fair. What if we got exactly what we deserved? There would be no skunks or poison ivy. I would never have stayed after school. I would have been co-captain of my Little League team, along with a kid who had thick glasses and protruding front teeth. I would have gotten every role I ever auditioned for. I would not have lost so many friends to accidents and disease. But if life were fair, it would be a life without growth and perspective. There is meaning in suffering, as difficult as it is to endure. From it, we learn humility and persistence. There is appreciation in abundance. From it we realize that life is full of grace as well.
Much as we depend on gravity to provide weight, we need suffering and abundance to give life a sense of context. Without gravity, there would be no resistance, and everything would have the same weightlessness, floating aimlessly without distinction. A mountain grows tall and gives us a better and better view the more it moves against the resistance of the earth.

It is a pretty philosophy to regard suffering as an opportunity for growth, but it does not fill the stomach of a starving child, and I have no answer for that. I believe that God can do all things, but I have come to realize through personal experience that sometimes He does not. I believe there is a plan that is beyond my comprehension that allows a place for catastrophic human suffering for reasons that reason will never understand. If we accept that unfairness is inevitable as long as we are alive, we can shift our focus to the far more important issue – how do we cope with suffering, both our own and in our compassion for the suffering of others?

William, I hope you take to heart this piece of advice, as it has helped me cope with every instance of personal hardship: You are not your circumstances. I’ll say it again: You are not your circumstances. What happens to you, good and bad, is not the essence of who you are. Your circumstances are external to you; don’t invite them in. They are unwelcome guests; they will try to make a victim of you. You will paralyze yourself with fear and depression if you let the unfairness of life become a part of who you are. Conversely, you will become vain and arrogant if you become absorbed by the abundance and good fortune that life will also bring your way. I’ve often looked to Scoshi {the dog} , a pillar of self-possession in moments of both feast and famine, when attempting to gain perspective in life: Scoshi is grateful when a chewie comes his way and doesn’t dwell on it when I forget to give him one. He is the same sweet dog sleeping on my pillow as he is sleeping with the scent of skunk on a bathroom floor. He never becomes his circumstances. It is not what happens to us in life, my boy; it is what we do about it. And that is the second element of coping with a world that is inherently unfair. How you react to both adversity and prosperity will determine your character, and, in many cases, your circumstances.

Sometimes you will realize, as I have, that the unfairness of rejection is simply protection in disguise. I have lived with much rejection. I have been cut from teams because I was not good enough to compete. I have lost many roles as an actor that I was not ready to command. I have had my heart broken by people who were not good for my life.