by Margaret Dulaney
I wonder if I am the only one who suffers from worthless days, days when I simply cannot fathom what I am doing with my present incarnation, as if everyone around me were busy pushing along the evolution of life but me — days where all I seem to be is a gas-guzzling, fresh-air-hogging, plant-consuming, water-sucking, free-loader, a worthless drain on an overdeveloped world, taking far too much room at the trough.
If you have ever shared even a hint of this dreary speculation, I must tell you that we are in good company. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, felt the weight of such days. “Yonder uplands are rich pasturage, and my neighbor has fertile meadow, but my field, says the querulous farmer, only holds the world together.”
What I find most fascinating about the workings of the world is how often, when in such a glum mood, some opportunity of usefulness will be unexpectedly handed to me.
Many years ago, before I had animals of my own (or I should say, before I began to pack my home full of animals) I was having a dreadful attack of uselessness. My husband and I had newly moved to the country and I had no friends, as well as no animals, to take care of. I had been wandering around in my back yard in a fog of paralyzing self-negation, circling through a list of empty pursuits, of vacuous reasons for my existence. Finally, weary of my damp, dead-end thinking, I asked to be given some sign of worth, some small signal of my life’s necessity.
Moments later a dog bounded into my back yard from out of the woods.
The yard at the time had a good deal going on in it. My husband had been overseeing the building of a fence along the road by our house, and there were several men standing around in various states of work and discussion. When the dog entered the yard, he raced past this group of men, practically leaping over them, in an apparent frenzy to reach me, as I stood near the back screen door of my house. He was long-legged and fast and in such a mad fury to get to me, with so little notice of the others, that it occurred to me that he might have mistaken me for a large squirrel. Surely, I reasoned in that brief instant, he was about to execute his instinctual, murderous designs by shaking me by my scrawny neck. In a sudden panic of protective paranoia, I ankled it though the back screen door, just before the dog, unable to stop his enthusiastic trajectory, threw himself against it. He recovered, partially, and stood panting and staring at the door. I hotfooted it around to another room, and looked out a window that would allow me to study him without his notice, and perhaps detect, from this point of relative safety, any signs of rabies or mad cow disease. Somehow he sensed my presence, turned to my window and raced over to it, placing his great paws on the windowsill to peer in at me.
I asked him, through the safety of the window, why it was he didn’t just go out and find one of the men who were working in the yard. I suggested that he might find the men less defensive of their necks, and therefore more inclined to listen. Without a glance in the men’s direction, he stared fixedly into my eyes, allowing me to make a more studied assessment. He was a mixed breed, of the largish, shepherd-like variety, faintly curling tail, long wolfish nose. He wore a rather dear, albeit anxious expression. He did not look the least like a hardened assassin. His name, if I had been asked to give him one on the spot, might have been Buddy, or Clem, something friendly, harmless . . . okay, even lovable.
I sighed, walked around to the door, opened it and stepped out to see what I could do for him. This caused such fireworks of desperate joy that it took quite a while to read the wild dangling ID tag, which landed and shot out of my hand a hundred times. Finally able to detect a phone number, I hunted for a pen, hunted for a piece of paper, hunted for the phone, while the dog continued to circle and leap, allowing less than two inches to come between us. The phone call elicited an equally mad fit of joy from his owner, a mother, who told me how many torturous days he had been missing and how much his child housemates had wept since his absence. She came at once, eliciting wails of gladness from both parties, and the circle of losing and finding was complete. I rung with gratitude for hours afterward.
This whole scenario took perhaps twenty minutes and was entirely lost on the men at the fence project. Months later when I mentioned the lost dog story to my husband, he was completely clueless. “Dog?” he asked. “In our yard?” The incident of the dog’s deliverance had clearly been designed for me.
Now here is where the idea of answered prayer becomes a bit tricky. I am not implying that the loss of the dog and the subsequent anxiety of his family were designed only for me. I tell this story because I believe it illustrates the remarkably intricate design, which weaves all of our needs into such a fine pattern, that if one were able to follow each thread backwards through the complexity of connection and miracle, the exercise would blow our tiny little finite minds.
In other words, if you took the thread of my own dreary thinking, the thread of the dog’s fearful journey, the thread of misery from each member of the dog’s household around the loss of the dog, if you took these threads and attempted to follow them back, even a few days, you could never unravel the wisdom behind this strange connection.
This fabric of cause and effect seems to be fabulously complex, dense, dense, like the deep pile of a thick rug. And, although there have been moments in my life where I believed I had discovered a worn spot, where I detected a bit of light shining through, I suspect the relative shining is like that of a candle next to the sun.
I will take that candle for now, take it gratefully.
Copyright © 2011 by Margaret Dulaney
Story image: Adapted from an image by Photobunnyuk, Dreamstime.com
"When I’m feeling particularly lost, an animal will often appear to help reconnect me to my place in the world. Apart from the animals in my home (and barn), I have learned to look to wild creatures for this aid of connection. When I travel away from my home, for instance, I am sure to be given some special glimpse, some touch: a passing cat will brush against me, an owl will peer out of her hiding place, a squirrel will pointedly chatter to me from a tree. These messengers, offered at crucial moments, have given me such comfort that I can only assume their presence is the result of a holy prodding, delivered from some kind divine hand."
Margaret Dulaney is the creator of the spoken-word website, Listen Well, offering once-monthly spoken-word pieces that explore the Divine through story and metaphor. “Worthless Days” originally appeared as the October 2010 offering on Listen Well and can be accessed by visiting the archive page at www.listenwell.org This is the third essay of Margaret’s to appear in Cezanne’s Carrot, and she is very grateful for the continued support of its editors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.