This month I’ve been wrapped up in a yoga challenge. A fellow yoga teacher and great friend and I have been mulling over one off-the-mat philosophy after the other in order to share our daily musings with our Instagram followers. #FollowYourYoga has propelled me back to past years and old lessons.
My father’s brain injury has been my biggest lesson, and my yoga practice is what has helped me to understand it. When I say understand, I mean understand how he is who he is, how my family reacts to what has happened and what continues to unfold; and, perhaps the hardest lesson, how I’m not supposed to understand why it happened.
The summer of 1996 and the years following felt cataclysmic, just like a big wrecking ball set on repeat trashing life as we knew it. All I felt was loss. Loss and missing and lack and sadness. It was so hard for me to see through all of that to see what good remained. I had my family, my friends, my education, my adventures, and my opportunities. I’ve had tons of fun, but I’ve also had years of sadness, and I’ve spent too much time searching for things to fill up a big hole with the way things were. There were times when happiness seemed impossible.
“You are in control of your own happiness.” My mother is known to say that, especially to me, especially to me in my twenties. She’s right. I am. We all are. But who is in control of our circumstances, like demolishing brain injuries? Not us, but we do have the option to act. We can move forward. That is not to say that the answer is to forget or ignore what happened, but in every challenging or sad situation there is an option to move away from the negative stuff to the best of our ability. The option is not always obvious, and sometimes the only move is a shift in the way we are thinking.
The other night a yoga student and I were talking about bad days, the “not rock star days,” as he calls them. These are the kind of days that are sticky and hard to shake. Often these days come with a change, and all we can see is the loss and what is now missing. I’ve lived through months of these days. Looking back, I realize that I could have saved a lot of sorrow had I not spent so long dwelling on change and made the choice to move—or think—forward. It’s not the day that is sticky, it’s the past we’re stuck to.
We humans are very comfortable and get very settled in the way things were, in the familiar. We can get so comfortable that we get stuck in a rut. Every now and again I have visions of my father as the “Old John,” or “pre-accident” way of life, and I want to live that way again, and last week was an overblown case. I had a rather inappropriate meltdown over a dog.
Chad, my fiancée, and I are getting a puppy—a fluffy, tubby, baby girl Golden. It’s a dream come true in my book. During the past few months, we’ve learned a lot about the complications of getting a Golden Retriever puppy. There have been shady breeders, online research, guilt-inducing suggestions of a shelter dog or rescue pup, and the unpredictable decisions that nature makes. We were both on speakerphone with my mom, filling her in on the latest puppy predicament. We could get a puppy, but it might not be a girl.
“Well, Janna, do you want a dog or do you not want a dog?” I wanted a dog. “There is nothing wrong with a little boy. They are nice, too. And cute.” This coming from the woman who gets only boy horses. “What is the difference?” There was a big, huge, giant difference! Rather than address her line of questions, I held back tears and agreed that we could get a boy dog. After hanging up, Chad asked what was so important about getting a girl puppy? It was a valid question, and I did not have a valid answer.
“Because … you know… we always have girl dogs.” This is a license for anyone to counter with so what? “Because your dad?” he asked.
“This is so stupid,” I started to cry, which felt as uncontrollable as it felt stupid. “I really don’t know how to have a boy dog …”
“Because you’ve never had one?” he asked.
“There are these pieces of life before the accident that I don’t know how to let go of.” I tried to articulate my feelings. “It’s like a piece of my old dad, and I only have a few pieces lefts, like girl Goldens and Buffett and skiing …” I was crying harder. “I want to hold on to these forever things, for as long as I can.”
He totally understood me. Yet, there I was again, gripping onto a past that had no place in the present. I had Chad and a life. I had my parents and soon a puppy that we would all love. How long did I need to hold on? Even my father would tell me, “The past is history.” Even he would love a boy dog. I went to sleep, telling myself over and over again that I would love a boy dog, or whatever dog, that it didn’t matter what dog. It’s okay if we get a boy. There are plenty of M-names for boys. Boys are great. Boys are friendly and fun. I love boys. I love girls. I love that we are getting a puppy. Any puppy. I don’t even care what sex puppy. I’m happy we are getting a puppy. I’m getting a Golden. We’re getting a Golden. The past is history. It’s all good. In the morning, I woke up feeling okay with a boy dog or girl dog. It was still a 50/50 chance.
Who knew that changing the sex of a dog could bring up so much old stuff? When change happens, the kind we can’t anticipate, why do we focus on the loss? Yes, at times, there is a big loss, but there is no reason to hold off happiness and allow what is missing to dictate our experience, especially not into the long-term. How long do you hang onto what was? And when do you move forward to what can be? We can choose.