My dog and my computer broke on the same day. Contrary to the common scenario, it was easier to diagnose the problem with the computer than the problem with my dog. My dog yelps without warning and with no consistent provocation. The computer simply refuses to come on, apparently due to a faulty internal power supply. Ironically, I can relate to both conditions equally.

I succeeded in depositing the computer at the repair facility where they informed me that I might be without it for two weeks. Two weeks? The internal power supply is on back order (again, I can relate), so there’s no way of knowing when it will come in. Apparently this lack of internal power is a wide spread problem. The true tragedy is that I have become so dependent upon this computer – as has my son, who I’m clearly creating in my own image – that the idea of not having access is painful. My son hadn’t gotten a chance to print out his homework, so now instead of “my dog ate my homework,” we have “my computer is holding my homework hostage.” Luckily, he has a very tolerant and evolved teacher who shrugged and said, “Just turn it in when you can,” but in the next breath added “Don’t know how you’ll study for the test on Tuesday.”

Thankfully, we held onto our ancient computer as back up. A friend will email my son a version of the homework from which he can study. This kind of sharing didn’t exist in my school days, but that’s no surprise. Listing all the things that have changed since today’s adults were students has become an internet past time. Apparently, we don’t have surplus energy, but we have lots of time to waste.

As far as the dog, he woke me at three a.m. with a yelp that could only induce panic in a parent. Reaching for my sleeping laptop on my nightstand, I began Googling “spontaneous yelping dog pain.” You’d be surprised how many movies have used this theme. Unfortunately, no vet websites sprang forth with clear-cut answers.

From the room down the hall, my son started calling out in his sleep as if experiencing sympathy pain for our dog. I lay there listening to the competing sounds, making one of those negotiations with the universe where you promise to be satisfied with your life “if only…” In this case, the “if only” was that I didn’t wake up with a dead dog on my bed. Yes, crass. I then rephrased it to say, “Please just let my dog be okay.” I’m not sure of whom I was making the request because I’m no God fearing American, but a sick dog calls up the same desperation as turbulence at thirty thousand feet.

I awoke to a pain-free dog. No more yelping. He was even smiling and playful, his spirit back to normal. Recalling the pact I made in the middle of the night, apparently I am now committed to appreciating my life.

Tall order, I realized. I’ve been in a funk, intellectually able to see all the good in my life, but emotionally aching. A lot of my friends feel similarly as they assess their lives, remembering all the grand hopes and expectations, but now facing the reality of what life has become. We feel average, mediocre, not full of the zest with which we left college. Each person who walks the planet may make a difference, but we want proof, something to add to our resumes, a way to feel special. We were raised with the message that we could do anything that we put our mind to, that all achievements were within reach. As we look at our lives years later, we feel responsible for our lack of accomplishment. If only we’d tried harder, been more focused, believed in ourselves more.

Our upbringing of encouragement denied us one valuable piece of information: Sometimes things just happen. We can’t control everything. We’re simply not that powerful. Rather than fierce encouragement, maybe a message of acceptance would have been better. Yes, try your best, believe in yourself, but if all doesn’t go as hoped for, you haven’t failed. The journey has value.

Looking at it this way, I’m starting to feel better. Maybe my career isn’t as explosive as I’d hoped, but as a result, I’m more available to my son when he has unanticipated questions, questions I wouldn’t want answered by anyone else. As I see my ability to offer guidance, I begin to understand that maybe I am where I need to be. Without the detours and bumps in the road, I wouldn’t know how to comfort others. When my dog was in the midst of his pain, I gently massaged his stomach remembering how we can heal one another. So maybe a broken dog and computer weren’t such bad things. Both have been healed, and some of that healing may have spilled onto me.

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