It doesn’t matter who says it these days. As soon as the expression escapes someone’s lips, the dog comes running, filled with the promise of a dropped morsel. “Oops” is all it takes to make her feet race with joy as quickly as they can carry her into the kitchen. One person’s mistake is another [dog’s] victory.
When my husband dropped a few grains of cereal this evening, sending the dog running to the kitchen to clean up his mess, it got me thinking about this simple cause and effect conditioned response we have created. It did not take long for our Zelda to learn that an error for us meant a reward for her. She’s a smart dog, highly motivated by food.
Food pretty much rules Zelda’s life. She’s an opportunist, ever-ready for the chance to snatch up a meal, whether it be her own, or the remains of someone else’s. When my husband dropped some of his evening snack, I got to thinking about how subjective the meaning of “Oops” can be. Even, you might say, for the person who utters it upon impulse.
In this example of food lost from one mouth, only to be retrieved by another, the idea of a loss equalling another’s gain seems quite simple. But, most of the time what is dropped in our kitchen and retrieved by the dog is mere crumbs and is not really missed by us. The dog, in this case, is doing us a favor by sweeping the floor with her mouth.
At other times, though, the loss is greater. A quarter, or even a half of a meal might be lost with a careless swipe of a hand, resulting in the dog’s gain becoming more of a costly indulgence not just for us, but also for her health. Then, perhaps you could say the “Oops” is a genuine oops.
But I’m more interested in the subjective nature of the “Oops” and how the impulse to utter a word of mistake can, upon deeper reflection, become a gain for the person who might at first glance be thought of as a victim of circumstance.
When an event occurs that disrupts the status quo, it is in our nature to react. Our reactions determine our emotional response to the outcome, and sometimes it is unwavering. For example, if we return to the instance above, the dropped food may be perceived as a careless action that results in self-reprimand. No thought for gain may be considered, aside from the dog’s.
Yet, when we take the time to consider the cause behind the cause and the result beyond the initial result, we might arrive at a different conclusion. We might take a moment to realize that maybe our thoughts had influenced our carelessness, causing the food to be dropped because we had not been fully present and invested in the present moment, or task at hand. Therefore, the dropping of the food becomes an opportunity to reflect and pause. We can consider what has caused us to be distracted and why. We can make a choice to let it go and become more mindful as we carry out the rest of the meal preparation that is underway.
A mistake, then, becomes an opportunity to learn and to grow, even one as simple as an “Oops.” As we do this, the amount of “Oopses” by nature decreases, and the opportunity is seized not by someone else (or the dog), but by ourselves. The reward becomes our own to retrieve if we choose to. And, most likely, with enough exploration, we will find that the gain outweighs the perceived loss.
I chose the above photo as an image for this post because it reminded me of a big “Oops” I recently read about regarding the writer Ernest Hemingway. Early on in his literary career, his first wife, Hadley lost his entire collection of unpublished manuscripts. Deciding that she would gather all of his work to bring to him while they were vacationing, Hadley misplaced the briefcase containing the contents of his creative work on the train. The briefcase, assumed to be stolen, was never to be recovered. It took months, if not years, for Hemingway to realize, with the help of a writer friend or two, that perhaps Hadley’s “Oops” had actually been a gift. His writing, you see, had only benefitted from his loss, becoming stronger and more refined because the page, like our floor, had been whipped clean by a perceived mistake. He had no choice but to start over with nothing to lean upon. Hemingway’s creative hand took not only adapted to the loss, it grew from it.
Five days ago my computer died. Like most mornings, I went downstairs, turned on the tea kettle, and opened the lid of my laptop. The screen was blank. I closed the lid and opened it again, because, on occasion, my computer decides not to wake immediately up. Another blank screen greeted me. I hit some keys. Nothing. I held down the power button. No sound. The screen was still blank. I tried it again with the same result. That’s when it occurred to me, my computer had reached the end of its seven year life.
Everything is on my computer. Well, not everything, but there’s more than seven years of photos on it, two complete and at least three partial book manuscripts, countless poems and other writings, and all of my business files. Strangely enough, I didn’t panic when I realized I had a lifeless computer before me. Instead, I went outside and drew in the beauty of the day before me. The sky was blue after the previous evening’s storms, and as my eyes followed the sun streaked trees around my swimming pool, I saw a goldfinch.
I rarely see goldfinches in my yard. We don’t have a feeder, and we get a number of birds, but goldfinches are a rare sight. As I looked at the bird wearing feathers that seemed to mirror the light of the sun, I was filled with a sense that everything would be okay. Soon, one of our resident hummingbirds appeared and she and the goldfinch danced up into the trees. Joy filled my being. How bold this tiny bird was, I thought, chasing after the sun.
Perhaps, I thought, my day would be better spent away from the screen. I also knew nothing, in essence, was really lost. Even if by some strange circumstance the ephemeral “cloud” that stores my computer’s data had also disappeared, and my portable backup was empty, I still had all I needed.
I never bothered to check the cloud, and took two days to check the backup unit. It was oddly and wonderfully freeing, in many ways, not to be tied to the data of this electronic device that was frequently a large part of my daily routine. Sure, I eventually checked my email and social media on my phone. A day or two later, I logged into an even older laptop to start working on some flyers for upcoming yoga classes (since I discovered I had not actually backed up my computer in at least eight months), and wrote a blog post .
Each time I had a fleeting worry that something I needed may have been lost, a solution seemed to rise above it and overpower it with truth. I somehow remembered passwords I hadn’t used in years, and discovered I had written down others. The same day I wrote a blog post, I also decided to change the name of my blog. An idea that I had been contemplating for many months decided to press its way into reality. Instead of contemplating the how, I followed the path of clues before me, and in a matter of minutes I discovered I had, in fact, successfully and nearly effortlessly, changed the name of my blog to one that felt more in resonance with my truth, and, at the same time, affordably upgraded my WordPress plan. My blog, like my computer, had felt near the end of its life. Each time I would upload a new photo I would wonder if it would be the one that would exceed the ever- approaching limit of storage.
Now, in front of me, I had “The Light Behind the Story,” with an enhanced capacity to hold words and images. And, I had somehow accomplished this on a computer that should have been dead by now.
Last night, after we took our daughter out to dinner (my son was at an amusement park with friends), she drove us to the mall so we could browse the selection of computers at the electronics store. By now my husband had drawn the conclusion that my motherboard must be fried. Likely, he thought, due to the storms that occurred during the night of my computer’s demise. I was not wholly convinced that it was my the storm’s fault, even though I had left the laptop on and plugged into the surge protector, which also held my phone and watch. They had faired fine. As had every other electronic still plugged into our home’s energy source. Not even the clocks had flickered. “You’re computer is old, though,” my husband insisted. Seven years didn’t seem that old to me…
So, here we were, browsing the latest and greatest computers with my eager daughter. She has a significant birthday coming up, which happens to be near Christmas, so there has been talk of her getting a laptop as well. A kind and knowledgable tech offered to take us through the basics, and I allowed myself to sweep into the marvels of the technology before me. The displays were impressive, to say the least. The capability of the machines before me much greater than the one that now appeared to be dead.
After perhaps ten minutes, we thanked our gracious host and continued on our way. And, as we did, I found my mind not lingering upon what we had left behind. It didn’t matter if I had one of those new units that day, next week, or years from now. I knew I would enjoy it (although I was sure not to its fullest capacity), but it was not an essential component to my being.
On the ride home, my daughter drove us to one more stop so we could buy two rose bushes, one yellow and one purple, that I had seen earlier in the day. They were half-price and my husband did not want to miss the opportunity. It took mere minutes. The roses, side-by-side, were where I had remembered them, in the midst of hundreds of others. As we continued our drive home, I thought about the roses and not about the computers left behind at the store, or the one dead at home. The vision of my late summer garden filled the canvas of my mind, and I picked through the weeds and looked for open spots where the beauty of new life would enhance the landscape.
When we arrived back home, I lifted the roses out of the car and nestled them in for the night on our front porch beside the mums I had purchased earlier in the day. “Well look at that!” my husband declared as he unlocked the dogs, “All three of them are here to greet us.” Eagerly awaiting our arrival, were our two dogs, Rosy and Zelda, along with Millie, our no-longer-a-kitten-but-still-very-spoiled-cat. I had hesitated making the brief stop for the roses on the ride home, worried that the sky was fast-darkening as I wondered if Millie had made her way indoors yet.
As I got out the sliced turkey to feed the well-trained pets their treat, my husband rushed down to shut the cat door and give Yoda, our 12-year-old cat-who-doesn’t-like-the-dogs-or-turkey, some cat treats. After everyone was settled, I turned on the TV to watch an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” while my husband got out some tools to open the body of my dead laptop.
I barely noticed his tinkering beside me as I watched my show. Glancing, once or twice with indifference at the insides that held the memories of the past seven years and more. A couple of times I heard my husband blow air through puckered lips into the circuits, while fleeting thoughts of snacks consumed as I typed passed through my mind.
I didn’t notice when the insides had been put back inside the shell, or when the lid had been lifted. Instead, I was snuggled into my blanket enjoying the scene playing out on another screen.
My tired eyes moved over to the space beside me where my dead computer was now very much alive upon my husband’s lap. It’s familiar face coming back into focus.
“It was pretty dirty. It must have been all the dust. Maybe something got disconnected…” The moment seemed surreal, and oddly plausible at the same time. I was surprised, but I wasn’t, just like my husband seemed to be, as I realized this problem, that had never in fact really been a problem, was now fixed. The how and why a mystery that really didn’t need to be solved.
And, so here I am the next morning, typing away on my not-dead-computer as I sip the last of my morning’s tea. Halfway through writing this post, my son came downstairs and I paused to talk to him, and, during our conversation, let our excited dogs outside. In my distraction of catching up with my son, I barely noticed the barking, until it grew instead of ceased. Annoyance began to build as I followed my son to the window to see what the fuss was all about.
“It’s a deer!” my son announced in audible awe. There, before us, was a magnificent doe, mere feet from the fence where our two dogs were barking away at it. Completely unfazed as it munched away at the fallen apples below the tree.
Miraculously, the dogs left the deer for the promise of treats, and I closed the door and returned to the window with my son to marvel at the gift before us. The deer stayed for several minutes, looking at us through the window, then back to the apples before her. She was in no rush as she ate her fallen breakfast, unfazed by our presence, just has she had been by our barking dogs. Unfazed by my voice talking through the open window. “Aren’t you beautiful,” I told her. “Go ahead. Eat the apples. Aren’t you beautiful!”
Like the goldfinch, hummingbird, and the roses, the deer now before me was another symbol of life. Real life. An immeasurable gift. Her presence not separate, but a part of the greater dance that joins us all. The dogs, my son, myself, and all that surrounds us. It had been more than worth the pause in the writing of this post on my newly revived computer. This call to pause and engage in the flow of joy that is life.
After the experience at Castlerigg, I needed some time to process, accept, and surrender as best I could to what was. We had planned for a laid-back morning for my last day in Cumbria, and after I awoke I asked if I could take Tess for a walk. I should probably clarify that. Tess is not a dog you actually have to walk. She’s one of those rare gems that walks herself, and you, without the trouble of a leash to bind you together. I didn’t have to worry about finding my way, getting lost, or losing sight of my companion. Tess not only leads the way, she stops to wait for you and makes sure you know where you’re going. It was quite the treat for me, as I am used to walking two over-zealous dogs (on leashes) who could care less if I want to go where they want to go, which is often in a completely different direction from each other, and me.
Anyway, back to my walk with Tess. It was another glorious morning. Filled with sunshine and just the wisps of clouds to compliment the blue, blue sky. And as we set out, down the old canal path beside Bernie & Steve’s home, I began to allow the beauty of the day to sink into by body, as well as the many unexpected gifts the weekend had offered.
The paths that I had traveled these last few days had been filled with the warmth of the sun and of friendship. There was the ever-present reminder, albeit sometimes difficult to accept, that I do not walk this path in life alone. Although Castlerigg was not appreciated in the way I had intended for myself, nor revered in the way I might like to see other visitors revere it, it had still been appreciated for its outer beauty on a beautiful day. Long Meg and Little Meg had offered to me a more intimate visit in contrast, reminding me that the magic is always there, even though it may sometimes go into hiding.
Another day was unfolding before me. A quiet day filled with the grace of the present moment, if I chose to reside in it. Tess and I passed only two other travelers during out walk, and our passing was uneventful and unobtrusive. It was easy to allow peace to settle in and take the place of heartbreak as I walked in the beautiful land of Cumbria.
I could have walked for miles, and so could Tess, as she reluctantly turned around after we got to our third “bridge to nowhere” to lead the way back home. We, or rather I, had toast and Bernie’s prize-winning marmalade waiting for us. And, boy did it taste good. Rather like you might expect a drop of sunshine to taste, if one could taste sunshine.
The four of us, Tess, Bernie, Steve, and I, spent the afternoon at the seaside, enjoying the beauty of the day and the presence of good company. Following tea beside the water, Tess and Steve played frisbee on the grass, I took photographs and breathed in the sea air. Along the path of my feet, white feathers scattered the grass. I had been well taken care of by my wonderful hosts and Mother Nature during the weekend, and perhaps that’s just what I needed most.
But the journey was not yet other. I had more time adventures awaiting me in London and a magical day with Sue and Ani in the land of dragons and “castles.”
To be continued…
To read the previous posts in this series about my recent visit to England, please follow the links below: