“The greatest problem we have as humans is that gray area between what we can control and what we can’t. For instance, this morning I can try my best to write a good article. I can research, read, prepare, rewrite, start over, rewrite again, etc. I’m doing my best.
But some days I simply won’t write well. And sometimes I’ll write something that people hate. Either because it doesn’t suit their style or they disagree with me or they dislike me for some other reason.
I choose “writing” for this example because it’s something I deeply care about. I love to write for others. I love it when people like my writing. It makes me feel better.
Which is the gray area. Because even though part of my reaction to my own writing is based on the responses of others, I have “almost” no control over it. I can do what I can do: hard work, preparation, etc. But still, where my control ends, the entire rest of the world begins.
I have to remind myself constantly, I am just a drop of water in the ocean. And ultimately that drop of water dissolves and is absorbed by this giant ocean of life around us. And that’s it. That’s the summation of my life.
It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy being this drop. What a pleasure it is to participate in life. But I’m just participating it. I’m not the ocean. And I have no influence over the waves that spin me around, or the sun that heats me, or the land all around that I could spill into.”
— That’s James Altucher telling us about the philosophy he lives by, something he’s dubbed, “Stoic soup.”
From the daily stoic.com.
In the year 64 AD, during the reign of Nero, a fire tore through the city of Rome. The French city of Lyons sent a large sum of money to aid the victims. The next year the citizens of Lyons were suddenly struck by a tragic fire of their own, prompting Nero to send an equal sum to its victims. It’s not unlike what happened here in America: In 2005 New Orleans was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the city of Houston took in thousand of refugees, and provided incredible amounts of aid. Then last week, as Houston was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, the people of New Orleans put together a pay it forward campaign to help the people who had helped them a decade before. The so-called Cajun Navy is in Houston right now rescuing people trapped by the floods. The story takes another twist too—as the storm moved from Houston to Louisiana and now many in New Orleans are evacuating and preparing for damage once again.
Seneca would would write a letter to a friend about those fires to point out the alarming irony of one city helping another, only to be struck by similar disaster not long after. The Stoics would take all this as an opportunity to practice our philosophy. When something bad happens to someone else we should be prepared to help—if we are in a position to. We should also use that situation to remind ourselves: There but for the grace of God, go I. There but for the grace of God, go the people I love. We should consider how easily—indeed how likely it is—that one day we may find ourselves in on the wrong end of such an event.
“Being unexpected adds to the weight of a disaster,” Seneca wrote, “and being a surprise has never failed to increase a person’s pain. For that reason, nothing should ever be unexpected by us.” Remember how easily your life could be disrupted by a terrible tragedy, how quickly you could lose everything. Remember how often history follows the pattern of Rome and Lyons, Houston and New Orleans. In a position to help one day, desperately needing it the next. Prepare for this—mentally and practically. It will make it better. It will also make you kinder.
When you can (if you can), do what you’re able to do to help those in need. Because soon enough you may be asking for the same thing.
“Snake” Laurie whispered over the phone, trying to catch her breath. “Snake in the pond!”
It was her “special” snake voice.
Knowing how Laurie felt about snakes and that we had baby koi in said pond, I did a U-turn and zoomed home.
She continued. “There was a little garter snake in the pond and I got him out, but when I bent down to scoop him up, I looked up and there was a big bull snake three feet from my head! And it was trying to get in the pond!”
Not a crisis in the sense of should we attack North Korea, but knowing how Laurie felt about snakes, I knew I would have to screw my courage to the sticking point and prepare for snake battles.
Important Note: NO SNAKES WERE HARMED DURING THIS STORY!
Laurie and I seem to be snake attractors. We’ve had rattlesnakes in the garage and portal and a red racer caught in the tomato netting, (cut out and saved with surgical precision by my daughter Sully as I “assisted.”). We’ve had more bull snakes then I care to count. My favorite encounter was a bull snake in the house that we couldn’t find. After seeing a tail slink into a gap in the kitchen wall, we had torn apart the wall under the sink trying to find it. Laurie finally gave up looking and as she leaned against a bannister ready to call us off, I noted that the snake was wrapped around the bannister, it’s head inches away from her. I said something to the effect of, “Laurie, don’t look now. . .” But then she saw it and sprinted down the hallway.
All harmless encounters, but this was different. A few weeks earlier I had caught a bull snake in our pond post-swallowing a baby koi. It slithered away before I could do anything. Sensing easy meals, it was back.
Unlike rattlesnakes who are ambushers, bull snakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi) are hunters. They seek out prey; diving into burrows and apparently into ponds and streams. Bull snakes are constrictors. A note: If I was a rabbit, I don’t know which would be worse, the venom of a rattler or being crushed to death by a bull snake: A rabbit existential question.
It doesn’t help that bull snakes get big, easily up to five feet long with some specimens recorded nearly eight feet long. (God help us all!)
Normally bull snakes are relatively passive. They are slow moving and easy to distinguish from rattlers. They don’t have the flat triangular head and they don’t have a rattle. They tend to be shinier then rattlesnakes who are dusky. Of course, it takes more than a nano-second to observe the differences and most people would just rather get the hell out of dodge upon seeing any snake. The cool-amazing thing about bull snakes is that they imitate rattlers, they coil and vibrate their tail, especially in grass — making a sound similar to rattling.
By the time I got home, Laurie had scared the snake away. We reconnoitered, noting that all the new baby Koi were safe. We decided to cover the little pond with burlap to keep the snakes out. And while we were doing that. . . Laurie reached to grab a rock to weigh down the burlap and immediately yelped. There, a foot away was our bull snake, coiled inside a Spanish bayonet waiting for us to leave so he could resume his (or her) fish dinner.
As all you husbands and partners out there know, I had only one choice in this situation. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t particular keen about snakes, it was my job now to physically remove it. I snuck up behind it and gently grabbed it and slid my hand to its head. (I should mention here how much I love gloves!) It was docile, so I was able to pick it up and walk it through our house and out the door.
I should note here that our dogs, Nellie and Tank, were completely oblivious the entire time. As I slowly walked down the hall, the snake’s head brushed against Nellie and she didn’t even notice. So much for being the highly alert guard-type dog.
As I carried the snake down our road to an arroyo, I kept chanting “bull snakes are our friends!” And they are. They are a crucial part of the eco-system here in Santa Fe. I just wish they would stay away from seafood.
From the Daily Stoic: (dailystoic.com)
“We’d all be better off if people were in less of a rush and didn’t take themselves and everything they do quite so seriously. In the long run, we are all dead, and many of the things that can eat people up inside are of little or no consequence. This is a central theme in Stoicism, whether we think about the ‘view from above’ or what Seneca has to say about the shortness of life. We see it throughout Marcus’s Meditations, and it’s in the background of Epictetus’s distinction between what is and is not up to us. Part of developing from an egotistical small child or a self-centred teenager into a well-balanced rational adult involves acknowledging and accepting the limits of our power and self-importance. We are not, it turns out, the centre of the universe. Much of what happens during the course of our lives is out of our control. Yet there’s a common implicit culture in the West that tries to say that if people are not fabulously rich and successful, then it is in some way their own fault for not working hard enough. This strikes me as both false and psychologically damaging for many people.”