A soft whimper came from across the darkened room. My eyes cracked open, trying to discern what had woken me from a not-so-great sleep. It’s one thing to be woken from a great sleep - at least you had a great sleep. But to be startled to reality out of terrible sleep, that’s just plain painful.
If anyone asks, “Who let the dog out?” it was me!
I dragged myself out of bed to find our younger and smaller dog, Winston, standing at the bedroom door crying to go out. We used to give him run of the house at night, but his uncontrolled peeing was a deal breaker (see my ealier post: A Conglomeration of “Becauses”. Or, How to Keep Your Sanity When Peed On!) We shuffled across the hall, and down the stairs to the back door. Way too tired to attach him to the lead, let alone see where I was going, I just opened the door and released the hound. If anyone asks, “Who let the dog out?” it was me!
There are times in life when I do something, and the small voice in the back of my head isn’t screaming enough to get my attention. My wife hates it when I let the dogs out untethered. Reilly tends to wander and Winston, well, think of what a “Winston” might do, and he does it. Small dog, big heart. So, at 3:30 in the morning, with neither sleep nor coffee jolting my senses, I swung the door wide for Winston to pee.
He trotted off to the red, concrete, mini fire hydrant to do his business. The ornament is my attempt to keep the rest of the grass green. Much like my efforts to get a good sleep, the hydrant doesn’t work well either. Winston paused, lifted his leg and then, almost without losing a step, meandered to the bare patch of ground which is our summer garden. I didn’t think much of it.
But I didn’t see the inky, wobbling critter in Winston's trajectory. Years ago, he rocketed 20 yards off the patio before I could chirp his name twice toward a similar shadowy figure. Yup, you guessed it, he tangled with a skunk! And tonight, in the wee hour of the morning, Skunk Boy strikes again! Winston has a lot of names, Pee Bucket and Skunk Boy are just two.
With the flick of a tail, he was hit, square in the chest. I heard him hack as I desperately called him inside. He disengaged, as any normal animal or human would and took a few steps away from the business end of the skunk; then he reengaged; as if the smell of anal perfume wasn’t repulsive enough! I shouted even louder, my voice now echoing in the cold, night. He returned slowly sporting a yellow badge on his chest. I whisked him to the shower enclosure to contain the stank. Absorbing as much of the ick as I could with paper towels, I roused myself to remember what we’d used last time he got sprayed. I had the bright idea of waking up Kris to see if she knew the ingredients. Note to self: Do NOT bother your wife when she hasn’t slept well. It isn't good, don’t do it!
The pungent odor was in my nostrils, on my clothes, and in the room.
Dumping several bottles of hydrogen peroxide on him and applying a liberal amount of non-toxic, natural dish detergent - skunk stuff is oily, and the soap cuts through it well - I had a clean, wet dog and a stinky house. The pungent odor was in my nostrils, on my clothes, and in the room. It was way too cold to leave him outside, so he and his smarter partner in crime, Reilly, spent the night on the downstairs couch.
I share this with you to lighten your day and make a practical life application. It’s not a stretch, but a lesson I’ve been learning over the years.
Winston didn’t plan on getting skunked, it just happened, and it’s a lot like our lives. How often have we found ourselves going through a routine day when and BAM, out of nowhere we get smacked right in the face? Skunked! Sometimes it’s a small issue, like locking your keys in your car before a business meeting (I’ll tell that story another day). Or, sometimes it’s harsh, tragic and debilitating.
No one likes getting skunked. But once we embrace the fact that getting skunked, being unexpectedly blasted with unpleasantries, is part of living, how we handle it becomes the real issue. Both times Winston got sprayed he didn’t make a sound. Not a cry, bark or yelp. Nothing. He handled it amazingly well, far better than when life skunks me; I tend to react rather than respond. And there's a very big and important difference between the two.
Reacting to the harsh challenges and surprises in life doesn’t help - but responding does. I differentiate them this way.
Responding is more cognitive, more strategic.
Reacting is an emotional and visceral twitch that doesn’t engage thoughtful, solution sided answers; it’s a yelp, a bark. It’s reflexive and involuntary. Responding, however, is more cognitive, more strategic. It’s an interruption in the mind/body/knee-jerk reaction sequence. When we learn or choose to respond rather than react, we allow for process to engage, not outburst, controlingbstress rather than letting it control us. Part of this, unlike Winston, is coming to the realization that one day, probably soon, you’re going to get skunked. The sooner we come to grips with this, the better our chances of responding and handling it well. Because, handling life well is better than it handling you.
So, when life skunks you, and it will, when you get nailed square in the chest by some surprisingly negative information or situation, try to respond rather than react. Sure, you may want to scream, pound your fists, or even smack someone, but even if the yellow goo of life covers you completely, staying in control helps. Focusing on solutions rather than emotions, responding rather than reacting will go a long way in aiding your emotional health.