Take a Dog Moment or Two

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There’s seriously too much going on.

I don’t work in an office, but once upon a time I did, and I cannot imagine what water-cooler conversations are like these days. We used to have one bit of news to discuss—one shocking event, one international coup, one political misstep. With the barrage of news coming at people today, it’s a wonder anything gets done.

I’m actually experiencing a similar problem. While it’s true I work alone—I sit in a room and write—I’ve always started my working days with news. Once upon a time it was simply NPR from the transistor radio by my kitchen sink; the past few years it’s been reading online. A few weeks ago I stopped; I had to stop. I moved away from Facebook because my news feed was depressing me too much. I stopped reading the news first thing because I was getting too angry. Either way, my work was affected.

But it’s much more than work that’s at stake, isn’t it? Ten years ago I talked about how we were nearing the end of an era, the collapse of the American Empire, and how things were going to get uglier before it was all over… What I didn’t understand was how quickly that shift was going to happen, how it would go hand-in-hand with dramatic climate change and devastating weather events, and how pervasive the political wreckage was going to be. So it’s not just work; it’s our whole lives caught up in what’s happening.

This isn’t going to be reversed by electing a new president in the United States. This isn’t going to be reversed by changing what we’re doing to the environment—the most recent UN analysis depressingly tells us that it really is too late. The truth is, this isn’t going to be reversed at all. We have to look somewhere else for hope, and hope is hard to find because of the pervasive sense of powerlessness we all feel.

I’m not saying we should do nothing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t protest wrongs. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing everything we can to help those millions of people living in poverty or fleeing violence or rebuilding lives destroyed by storms.

What I’m suggesting, though, is that hope, the hope that gets us out of bed in the mornings and allows us to face another barrage of overwhelming pain and negativity, that hope has to lie elsewhere. And I think that where it lies is… well, here. Now.

I don’t live with a dog, but I live in a town that loves its dogs, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to observe them. And what I see is a creature experiencing life in the present. If something bad happens, it endures. If something good happens, it is overjoyed. Ten minutes from now it won’t be stressing over what went on, because it’s experiencing the next moment.

We can’t live like that, of course. We have to plan and work and pay bills. We can’t just sit and wait for the next moment to come. But what might slow down that barrage of information is finding dog moments in the day.

As much as I’m in love with Charles Pierce, I don’t start my day with his political column anymore. I don’t check my Facebook feed. I don’t see what Seth Meyers or Stephen Colbert or Trevor Noah had to say last night. Now I get dressed and make my first coffee and take it with me to a bench near my home where I can sit and look at dune grasses and bay waves and breathe in beauty. It’s only ten minutes, but for those ten minutes I live in the dog moment. I’m grateful beyond words that I live in a place where that’s possible; but taking the dog moments doesn’t depend on the environment you’re in—it depends on you.

Feeling overwhelmed is all about the past and the future. What happened (that you can’t change), or what will happen (that you can’t control). I think it’s inevitable to feel that way; but we can balance it, too. Take a few dog moments today and see if I’m not right.