Winnie's Favorite Game

Monday, February 1, 2016

My sister’s dog, a white toy poodle named Winnie, likes to play a really fun game with us (fun for her, not so much for us).

The rules are quite simple: Winnie slowly and methodically frees every one of the toys we’ve neatly assembled for her in a basket, scattering them around the living room in a haphazard fashion as she does so.  That last bit is important, because she’s supposed to make it as inconvenient as possible for humans to step around them.  Bonus points are awarded every time we trip over something.  

But she doesn’t take all of the toys out of the basket.  Oh, no.  She’s careful to leave at least one each time.  Because the object of the game is to get a human to relent and pull the last toy out of the basket for her, a goal she achieves by staring at it and whining and crying, in spite of my sister’s and my repeated and wearied observations that, “Winnie, you already have every other toy on the floor right now,” as if she can actually understand what we’re saying and reason alone should be enough to get her to stop. 

Why doesn’t she ever want to play with the toys she’s already gotten out?  

I realized, as we watched her the other night, that I’m playing this game, too.  I already have everything (every toy, so to speak) that I could possibly need in this life.  I have a family and close friends who love me, and whom I love deeply.  I have had plenty of opportunities to travel.  I have an abundance of nutritious food to eat, and clean water to drink.  I have my health.  I have a bookshelf full of reading material, and, as an added blessing, I am among the population of people in this world who can even read them to begin with.  I have a beautiful house to live in, and my own means of transportation in a car.  And much more besides. 

And still I am restless.  My anxiety about the future makes me so forward-focused and gives me such tunnel vision, that I, like so many others, fail to notice the goodness already surrounding me.  Like Winnie, who, for a reason I can’t quite puzzle out, feels she can’t be contented as long as one stuffed, squeaky squirrel remains in the toy bin, I fall into the trap of believing, “I’ll be happy when…” instead of deciding to be filled with joy right now.  It seems obvious to me when Winnie is in this pickle to try and persuade her to play with something she’s already strewn about the floor, because even when I finally succumb to her (usually because her cries have become almost operatic in nature), the toy she’s wasted all of her little doggie energy on for five minutes only holds her interest for about that much more time… and then she wants something she already had.  

Though I’m still very young, I have lived long enough to know obtaining something you’ve wanted for a while doesn’t necessarily make you a happier person in the long run.  Sure, it’s gratifying to reach a goal, my heart definitely warms when I receive a present, and it’s thrilling to break out of the norm and take a vacation somewhere, for example.  But while these can certainly amplify short-term happiness… time and again, I’m reminded that the things that bring me the most joy are those precious little ordinary moments or abstract things I already experience often, like a long conversation or a meal shared with a family member or a friend, or  the time I take for myself to write and read.     

But there are also those people and events and things in life that are supposed to be transient, that maybe aren’t meant to be returned to again.  They might only be here for a season, whether it’s a job that pays the bills for now but won’t become a viable career option later, or a current roommate situation, or a friendship that fizzles.  But I want to make it a point to appreciate even these things, to let them be whatever they need to be for me.  It’s okay to look toward the future, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something good to be found in this moment.  So I want to practice not focusing on the future so much at the expense of the present.  I want the presence of mind to realize that this, right now, whatever it is, is pretty special in itself in some way, and I don’t want to be wishing in another ten or twenty years that I had cherished it more because it really was unique and wonderful, while (ironically) not treasuring those later moments because I’m polluting them with too much nostalgia.  

There are a lot of fun toys on the floor already, and I think it’s important to remind myself to play with those first.  Because I know that eventually the “now” will become “back then.”  I’ll put certain moments and chapters of my life away gradually as I finish with them, knowing they’ll wear out or break as the most-loved items always tend to do.  I’ll call them memories and shelve these current experiences when I’m ready to move on and continue to grow.  And then I’ll reach into the basket for something new.  

For now, though, I just want to enjoy.

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