Posted on: April 2, 2020 Posted by: vudfc Comments: 0

By: Matt Gordon

This post is part of a series about creating and testing rules to live by. Click here to head to the first post and see the list of “rules.”

When there is no choice in a matter, dwell on it as little as possible. Try even to find something enjoyable about it or create a reward for “suffering” well.

“Do I have to?” I whined.

“Yes!” comes the emphatic answer from all directions.

This is an almost daily conversation had when I have to take out the trash or attend a work function I’m dreading or eat my green beans or when I have to talk about my feelings or write a blogpost or . . .

We all have this foreboding sense of obligation toward the things to which we are committed. Doesn’t really matter what it is, but as soon as it becomes a “have to” a little part of us tries to bend it to “Do I have to?” In college or high school, this was demonstrated through being assigned research papers. You’d put off developing an idea, checking out books, editing a first draft, printing a second one, doing the dreaded Works Cited page. At every level of the process was worry and dread and grumbling. You’d begrudgingly finish the assignment, turn the assignment in, and then restart the process of prickly procrastination about the next assignment.

And such becomes your life—loathing the momentary obligations of one day, completing them, and then loathing the obligations of the next day . . . until we die (the part of life, in fact, that might be at the heart of this vicious cycle of avoidance).

I haven’t had many epiphanies in my life. There was the time I bit both ends of a piece of licorice and then used it as a straw. EUREKA! Oh, and the moment I realized I could increase the reading speed on audiobooks. EUREKA! But one of my finer, deeper EUREKA! moments came from attending a funeral—death, after all, is the great teacher. But in this case it wasn’t so much seeing a corpse in casket as it was all that led up to that moment. For days I had barraged my mother with reasons why I didn’t need to attend: I don’t know this person! I’ll miss my baseball game—and we are playing the Astros! It is one more mouth you’ll have to feed along the way. You could stay longer to visit with family if you don’t schlep us kids along. What if I just stay here and paint the kitchen like you’ve been wanting? There was no shortage to my feeble reticence. Nor to her pithy resilience, which came in this form: “You’re going.”

And she was right. There was no way around it, aside from running away, and that is a pretty short-sighted solution. Eventually one runs out of places to run or people to run to. At some point, our path turns to a circle, trodden trails and sodden relationships.

I went to the funeral. I paid what little respects I had. Then I went home, no worse for wear, once my tie was removed, that is.


Life is made up of obligations. Daily there are things I don’t want to do. Most of those things are beneficial to other people, which is why I probably don’t want to do them—I am a black hole of selfishness. But I’m not going to leave my family; I’m not going to lose my job over my scruples; I’m not going to behave like my toddler when I can’t have my way. Nope, I’m going to realize I’ve been cosmically drafted into this circumstance and I am not going to waste energy fighting it or miss sleep wrestling with it. I’m going to accept it, do my part, serve well, and move on.

I’ve found this disposition to be one of the best ways to reduce anxiety in my life—why worry about a thing I have no choice in? Just accept it, and, if possible, try to see something redemptive in it. For that funeral, it was easy: I was there for my mother when she needed me and I got this very life lesson out of it.

Also, with these situations, I’ve found other rewards. Occasionally these experiences are worse than I anticipate. And this is great! Life is built upon experiences—good ones and bad ones. In fact we need a bit of both to be able to discern the difference. (Think of CS Lewis’s famous line—no, not that one, the other one!—about the kid making mudpies in the slum because he doesn’t know what is meant by a holiday at the sea.) But, as we catalogue the good and separate it from the bad, we find a nimble line, a shifting distinction. What I mean is that sometimes when a situation is a total mess, it leads to what becomes a fond memory or catchy story—some anecdotal wisdom one can keep in his back pocket chronicling that one time things were torn asunder. That, or things go far better than my dread would have indicated. This is often the case. “You know what, that wasn’t so bad!” you say after the dentist appointment, or haircut, or dinner party, or family vacation, or performance review, or, even, funeral.

Sometimes you get surprises along the way too.

I recounted a story recently about being dragged by my mother four hours during winter break to a family Christmas gathering. To say I didn’t want to go would be an understatement.

On the way there, in front of our car, was a van with some children jumping around. Wildly. Like animals almost. I urged the car forward, our Camry speeding up to drive alongside this plodding mini-van.


That word probably isn’t shouted in mother-and-son unison all too often. My sister stirred from the backseat to take in the scene: A little boy monkey in overalls and a little girl monkey in a little dress were gleefully cartwheeling about the mini-van. I am not making this up.

The two old women in the vehicle just cruised along as their monkey children explored every inch of their van; our hearts.

So there is that too.

Along some roadway we don’t’ want to be on, on some trash run or at some dinner party, there is always the possibility of monkeys—unexpected loves and joys and memories, cartwheeling about forever within us.

So along with my head, I want to keep my eyes up. Take life as it comes, for one never knows when and where the wonder (or EUREKA!) might pop up.

When there is no choice in a matter, dwell on it as little as possible. Try even to find something enjoyable about it or create a reward for “suffering” well.

(Quick Virus Application (QVA-19) – We are all familiar with the silver lining moments of this thing. At the same time, we need not vapidly divorce ourselves from the tragedy of the moment. Sorrowful yet rejoicing—that is the paradox: we are aware this is brutal . . . and yet. The wellness of our souls awakens and spills over to birthday parades to kids in remission, to live concerts online, to seeing people in our communities we formerly would look right past or through. We can’t escape this trial, but we can decide how we live in it. How we navigate choppy waters. On the deck, we wrestle with the ship—rowing and reinforcing and crying out to the gods. But also, we sing. We skip. We laugh. We fight together and we love. Like at any good wake, we cry together and the tears turn to laughs which bring on even more and sweeter tears. And always we, slouched emotionally, keep spiritual eyes open for monkeys along the way.)


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