The Rock Pile

rock pile small

 

My friend Allison has been through her fair share of life’s ups and downs. Recently, she’s spent a lot of time on the down side of the hill. This bout of hard luck seems to be making her a little bitter, a little cranky, and a lot less fun. It’s a shame because Ally is truly a dear, sweet, loving person. She deserves a little happiness to roll her way. Sadly she seems to attract the dramatic, preferring soap opera style Strum und Drang over peace.

Allison never had the benefit of my grandma’s advice when growing up, which would have nipped this silliness in the bud. My grandmother told me often, “I expect you to try new things in your life. I expect you to fall on occasion. Pick yourself up and try again. You are not allowed to lie there and wallow like a fat, muddy sow.”

Allison indulged in a bit of sow-wallowing this summer and paid a tidy sum to do so. Allison went to a women’s camping retreat for two weeks. I’m not sure how this retreat was advertised, because I got odd messages from Ally. She bought new tees, sandals and shorts. She complained that finding shorts that looked cute both with tees and topless was really difficult. Hello? Shorts that need to look good with and without shirts just aren’t purchased by females. I’m thinking the Malibu men’s beach volleyball team has a lock on this fashion trend, but why would Allison need such a thing? “Well,” she explained, “I expect that we will be honoring our womanhood by dancing around the fire topless. “

Uh huh. I honor my womanhood by eating strawberry shortcake in my bathrobe while watching Monty Python re-runs. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.”  I have a news flash for Miss Ally.  If you are topless, no one should be checking out your shorts.

I think I have figured out why Allison signed up for this “Outward Bound meets Oprah Winfrey” event. When Ally is under pressure from bad luck, a bad relationship, a bad job; she tends to make impulsive decisions. I’m counting the two-week camp-out for unhappy women as one of her questionable choices. Even worse, it was expensive.

On Day Two of the retreat, Allison signed up for a class on “Attracting Joy to Your Life.” It was a popular class loaded with participants, all eager to find the elusive secret to happiness. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone deserves joy. The morning was spent on generalities and before breaking for lunch, the class got their first assignment. During lunch, everyone was to go out and walk around the campus. Pick up a pebble or rock for each issue in your life that made you feel disrespected or angry. Document your hurt with a stone only if you thought about the incident every day. The size of the rock chosen should also represent the amount of hurt you suffered.

Ally was all over this assignment. She was so eager to get to it that she skipped lunch altogether. She found a sizeable stone to document her philandering ex-husband, rocks to represent her three older sisters and their life-long mistreatment of her, a flat paver to show her boss’ general lack of appreciation, and chunks of gravel for every self-centered slacker she’d ever dated. I had no idea that Allison felt so wronged. I can not imagine being haunted by past events every day as she claims to be.

Allison managed to get her load of issues back to the class space just in time for the afternoon session. It took the pillow case off her bunk to haul it all, but it was worth it. As everyone assembled, some with just one tiny pebble, barely a bead, Ally was very proud to see that she had the largest pile of rocks. No one else even came close. She was going to have so much fun.

Allison had heard about this exercise before. You took your rocks down to the lake. You yelled everything you could think at the person the stone represented and heaved it into the water. It was supposed to be cathartic and wonderful. She could not wait to start screaming and chucking her collection of wrongs.

The instructor walked about the class, examining and commenting on everyone’s pebbles. He spent some time counting Allison’s pile o’ pain. He questioned whether she really carried so many injuries with her on a daily basis. She swore that she thought about each and every one of these issues at least once a day. With a sigh, the instructor went back to the front of the gathering.

“Okay people, this is an important exercise for you to accomplish. Only by completing this task, will you be able to begin living a joyful life. Is that clear?” asked the instructor.

Allison was practically vibrating with anticipation now. She was going to lug all these hateful injustices to the lake and drown them. She was going to be free. This was going to be so great!

The instructor was talking again. “All of you have assured me that you have gathered rocks to represent the painful issues that you think about every day. These issues nip at your confidence, block you from achieving success, and prevent you from attracting happiness and love into your life today. These issues are a tiresome burden to carry and you must prepare to not only let them go, but to gladly rid yourselves of them forever. Unfortunately, old pains are comfortable pains. People carry things around for years because if they let go, they are uncertain of what’s next. It’s a better-the-devil-you-know thing. But we are going to move beyond that here this week. We are going to let go and open our lives to true joy. Are you ready?”

A resounding “yes” was heard from the entire class. Everyone was ready to divorce their anger and find happiness. Quite a few of the rocks in the room represented ex-spouses, so divorcing the pain was practically a literal task for the group.

“Now” the instructor began, “in order to fully understand what you are doing to yourselves by carrying these past disappointments around and reliving them daily, you will carry your rocks everywhere with you for the next three days. You may not even go to the bathroom or the mess tent unless all your rocks are with you. Is that clear?”

“What? Wait.” said Ally. “What about the lake? What about the rocks and the lake?”

“Oh, thank you for reminding me.” said the instructor. “I would not recommend swimming for the next three days. You in particular, Allison. You are in real danger of drowning yourself.”

 

There Be Dragons Here

Amos Henry and Joe

 

We live at a crossroads. Not a magical Robert Johnson kind of crossroads, more of a Gomer Pyle crossroads. Even though we are way out in the middle of nowhere, and it is not possible for me to overstate our rural-ness, it’s still a very busy intersection. When I visit my friends in the city, I actually sleep better. It’s quieter. Here at my little country corner, traffic starts rolling through around 3:30 in the morning so everyone gets where they need to be in time for work.

Just your average, garden-variety car tends to be loud and jiggly here since this county does not have vehicle emission standards. Air pollution is just not our most pressing problem. The average income in this county is shamefully low, so car maintenance is regularly postponed. There are a lot of vehicles on the road here that sound like they’re one lug nut away from extinction.

Making it worse, one of the roads running past my house accommodates all the tractor trailers going from the poultry farms to the nugget factory and from the orchards to the juice plant. The other road handles dump trucks from the quarry and the big rigs hauling roof truss systems. It’s a noisy, rattling junction, you can be sure.

That’s where the mastiff comes in. Joe is our official Security Director and alerts us to all things suspicious in our immediate vicinity. He’s the Top Gun of our thirteen acres and takes his position very seriously. I mean, drill sergeant seriously. Unless he’s sleeping, then you’re on your own. But other than that, he’s a perimeter enforcement beast.

The rest of the pack are fairly casual in their approach to home defense. The Basset hound couldn’t care less. The bulldog will bark once or twice if the event exceeds a certain time limit. The boxer will at some point utter a supportive bark, but will never know why since he’s deaf and doesn’t get it. So threat assessment falls squarely and solely on Joe. He sees it as a somber responsibility.

Lumbering, squealing, jostling trucks are never going to be accepted by Joe as anything other than an imminent threat to our well-being. They are the mechanical equivalent of a dragon suffering a violent seizure and everyone needs to be made aware that something awful is happening this close to the house.

Every dump truck, every garbage truck, every Department of Transportation vehicle, every big rig has to be chased off by ferocious barks. These are serious, slobber-slinging messages of doom. Woe be to the vehicle that dares to slow down, or horrors, park near our property.

I am torn about this security soundtrack. On one hand, I like the fact that everyone knows we have a protective, 200-pound dog on the property. It makes my life a little easier. It helps preserve my privacy. It has totally eliminated the annoying visits from the “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?” crowd.   To the couple trying to sell insurance door-to-door, Joe didn’t think much of you either, but I guess you got that memo while standing on our porch.

On the other hand, shut up already! I have attempted dozens of times to record a series of pod casts. I do not have one that I can use because somewhere in every single recording is a series of ear-splitting alarm barks. What to do? I’ve always approved of Joe’s behavior in the past, even encouraged it. Now that it doesn’t mesh with my goals, how do I tweak his protectiveness? He just doesn’t understand, “Not now baby, Mama is trying to record the funny.” How many Benedryl do you think it takes to make a monster-sized mastiff sleepy?

This week has been particularly bad. It’s a holiday week, so traffic is heavier than usual. Also, Joe has a deputy-in-training. We are babysitting my in-laws’ Irish Wolfhound, Amos. Amos is all too eager to learn the ways of home protection. Amos is supporting Joe on every woof, racing from window to window trying to understand what it is we’re barking at. Doesn’t matter. Joe said it was time to howl, so mad barking is in order.

I’m pretty sure I can translate the barking after six years of hearing it. Allow me.

“Hey, you cow. I see the way you’re looking over here. Keep your eyes on your own pasture.”

“Oh my God, is that a cat?”

“Did you hear a dragon? I’m sure I heard a dragon. Dragons rattle and that was definitely a rattling sound. Y’all had better recognize the danger we’re in. Dragons kill, you know.”

“Is that cat still here?”

“Look at this! It’s a rabbit. Just who do you think you are? Go away. I saw Monty Python.”

“Motorcycle, motorcycle, motorcycle! That’s way too loud for a Honda, Mister. Move along.”

“It’s another dragon. Wait no, it’s a dump truck. I don’t like your looks, buddy. Keep rolling.”

“Wait, is that the same cat?”

“You! You with the bible. Get back in your car or else.”

“Intruder alert! Hey, that’s Daddy’s car, that’s Daddy’s car. Daddy’s home. Time to dance! Let’s bark to share our joy.”

“Daddy’s in the house! We missed you so much! Let’s bark to show you how much we worried while you were gone.”

“It’s dinner time. We will now bark to express our gratitude.”

“It’s TV time. There’s that nasty little Jack Russell terrier on the PetMeds commercial. We hate him. Bark to convey our collective disapproval.”

. . . . and repeat.