Sometimes on BoomerCafé we run stories about a boomer’s life taking its toll. This one’s different: today, Phyllis Edgerly Ring writes about life lending wisdom. It’s adapted from her book, Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details.
“The art of wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook.”
When I turned over this quote of William James’ on my calendar, it struck a chord. I think a lot about how I can respond to life more consciously. It’s too easy to default to the fight-or-flight reaction that a barrage of “urgent” messages can prod us into, whether they’re coming from network news or our overfull inboxes.
To achieve quality of life, we sometimes have to follow James’ wisdom about NOT reacting, letting things go by — even doing nothing. One boomer neighbor’s experience provides an example of how much trouble we can save ourselves when we do.
She has a cat intent on going in and out of the house at night, which means this woman’s already fractured sleep takes a beating. She decided to resolve the issue by opening the screen of her bedroom window (whose sill is close to the ground) to facilitate these nocturnal adventures.
A few nights later, she woketo the sound of scratching in her bedroom — a sound she knew immediately was NOT being produced by her cat. It didn’t take long to recognize the source, something in some ways similar to a cat, but which often leaves an appalling stench in its wake.
Now, if this isn’t a cause for inner alarm and subsequent reacting, I can’t imagine what is. There you are in the quiet vulnerability of your own bedroom when you wake to find that you’ve got a skunk for company. Every terror-driven reflex I’ve got would be screaming for me to run for my life which, of course, would be the precisely wrong thing to do.
My neighbor had the admirable presence of mind to recognize that right away. Her survival instincts took a page from animal wisdom and decided that playing possum was definitely the best available option. She steadied herself to lie quietly, and began thinking things through.
A skunk that had found its way in was likely to find its way out again, and she was at least in a prime location to know when that had finally happened. Her concerns included just how much exploring it would do first, and whether it might fall asleep under the couch — although the laws of nature predicted it would probably head back outside before daylight.
So, this wise woman lay veryquietly and listened, and waited. At some point, she heard the sound of the cat’s dish on the kitchen floor and,eventually, the scuffling sounds of the critter returning to her bedroom, then the scrabbles of its finding its way back outside. Phew!
This was where she was especially wise. She let some more time elapse, quite a bit more, before she got up and closed that screen (which you can bet she will never leave open again).
At this stage of life, she’s had practice with knowing what to overlook, what to let run its course, and how to respond with the choice to do nothing. These are my own choices the next time life offers me an invitation to avoid what could potentially become a big stink, too.
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