From the insistence

The little frog seemed not to notice my camera just inside the window. July 2018

“Much of the bothersomeness of daily life arises not from circumstances themselves, but from the insistence that they ought to be other than they are.” Oliver Burkeman

When I read that quote, I was struck immediately with how truly it describes most of the stress I face each day. As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a very strong sense of fairness versus unfairness, right versus wrong, justice versus injustice. There’s nothing wrong with this, except that I often forget I’m not the best arbiter of these distinctions, and they aren’t always an all-or-nothing, black and white proposition.

Not only am I inadequate as a judge of these opposing forces, but my sense of the relative importance of something often gets lost in the immediacy of the moment. To put it another way, I am too prone to “sweat the small stuff.” Having said that, I don’t always err on the side of being frustrated. I sometimes find joy in things that other people consider negative or downright irritating.

The little critter pictured above is a prime example. One night soon after I had moved into my new home, my sister noticed a tiny frog clinging to the glass of the door to my deck, catching flies and (in our fanciful imagination) watching what we were doing inside. We thought the frog was adorable, and we behaved in all the silly ways people sometimes do when they see a cute animal — talking to it in high pitched voices, wondering about where it lived, and whether it was as curious about us as we were about it.

For several nights in a row, this frog (or another one who looked just like it) reappeared in almost the same place. Apparently there was quite an insect buffet on offer there, due to the light coming from the windows into our kitchen which drew the bugs in abundance. One night when we didn’t see the frog, we actually felt sad at its absence, and wondered if it was OK. We were quite happy when it reappeared the next night.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read numerous complaints about frogs on our online neighborhood group. Apparently, not everyone finds the frogs cute or even useful. Anything that eats bugs is OK by me (except maybe spiders or snakes), but several people were griping about how many frogs we have in the woods behind our homes, and how they leave droppings and generally offend others by their mere presence in our human environments.

I agree that the droppings are mildly annoying, but they’re quite easy to remove with a broom or wet paper towel. I find the delight of these amphibious visitors far outweighs whatever drawbacks they might bring. Besides, did I mention that they eat bugs?

This all started me thinking about how much energy is wasted– by me and clearly, by many others– in choosing to be unhappy about things that are a natural and inescapable part of life. A simple re-framing can work wonders, for almost any frustration not life-threatening or catastrophic.

For instance, consider traffic, one of the chiefest offenders for anyone living near a city. If I allow sufficient travel time so as not to be in a hurry, and keep an interesting recorded book or some favorite music loaded into the car’s audio system, I find that the traffic does not infuriate me as it will when I’m in a hurry or simply BORED by the slow crawl of many vehicles.

Traffic can be viewed as a good sign, despite the pollution it generates and the nerves it frays. It means people are able to be out and about, conducting business, pursuing recreational activities, or visiting friends and relatives. It’s a sign of life. It’s also a sign of prosperity, as friends from countries where cars are considered a luxury have made me aware. Yes, it might be nice if the roads were adequate for the density of vehicles traveling them. But road construction, too, comes at a price; ask anyone who ever lost their home to eminent domain laws. To say nothing of taxes, disrupted travel while the work is being done, and then even more cars using the newly-opened road. Like work, traffic will always expand to fit the space allowed for it. It’s a problem that will never be totally solved, and fretting over it continually will profit us nothing.

Becoming aware of my tendency to engage in unproductive fuming over things I perceive “ought to be other than they are” was a useful tool in my quest to defeat despair. One recent day it seemed as if many (small) things had gone wrong, and I ended the day with a sense of general irritation. When a not-so-small problem reared its head that evening, I could feel myself spiraling into the cortisol-laden anger that tends to send me off tilting at digital windmills or banging my head against immovable walls. But somewhere in the midst of my reactive state, a better thought emerged. I reminded myself that, whatever happened, life is too short to spend it being unhappy.

I let go of the illusion that I could do anything at all about what had me worried and upset, and I totally changed mental channels. I don’t remember whether I picked up an enjoyable book, or turned through a magazine I like, or listened to favorite music. I only know that I made the decision that the hours remaining in the day would be spent in more agreeable pursuits. Right there, almost instantaneously, my day turned around.

Are there things in your world that “ought to be other than they are?” If you have done what you reasonably can do about them, or if nothing will alter the situation, try changing mental channels and enjoying activities that bring you joy and a sense of purpose. Some of you are naturally good at this and don’t need this advice, but if any of you are more like me, diligently (sometimes almost obsessively) trying to right all things you perceive as wrong, you have my sympathy, and my understanding. I invite you to sit down with a cup of tea and turn your thoughts to something pleasant. Maybe it’s a memory, or a fun project, or an exciting goal. But maybe it’s something as simple as– look!– that cute frog on the window again, catching bugs.

26 Comments

  1. Julia, Thank you for your post! I know I’ve told you before, but it bears repeating . . . I enjoy your blog both because of the content AND because of the excellent writing. You inspire me to “up my game” in the area of writing — word choice, sentence structure, etc. That’s why I continue reading your posts. 🙂
    We have frogs here in FL, and I think they are cute also. I often take pictures of them. I, too, find it strange that others are annoyed and sometimes frightened by them. LOL
    Thanks for the reminder not to sweat the small stuff. Love you, Friend!!

    • Barb, you are so kind, and as I’ve told you many times before, I wouldn’t be blogging at all if not for you. Thanks for being a longtime reader and faithful friend! I’m glad to know you are a frog fan too! They are so cute. I love lizards also. In Hawaii, the geckos (that live inside all the homes and are considered good luck in Hawaiian culture) never bothered me. But they drove some people crazy. Haoles, mostly. 😀 Love you too!

  2. Susan

    Great insight, Julia! This is why I always listen to music in the car (commercial-free Sirius radio is one of my favorite innovations), rather than news or talk radio, which just makes me agitated.

    • Susan, I think that’s very wise on your part. If broadcast discussions could be more civil, they wouldn’t be so disruptive to peace of mind. But polite exchange of ideas seems sadly missing in modern life. I can remember when it wasn’t that way, or maybe I’m only imagining it. But I’m with you, give me some great music and my mood is instantly better.

  3. Linda Blackford

    I totally agree, Julia! “Life is too short to spend it being unhappy.” I don’t always succeed, but like you, I try to set the unhappiness or frustration aside and replace it with something pleasant. It’s always surprising to realize how many pleasant ways to spend time there are! I hope you indulge in many of those today.

    • Thank you, Linda! I’m about to sit down with a book and a mug of herbal tea. You are quite right — we have a wealth of simple, free or low-cost blessings to enjoy every day, no matter what else may go wrong.

  4. Chris

    Hey Julia!
    As I sit here at lunch, reading the post, I had to chuckle! It seems like we had this conversation a couple weeks ago, when you were dealing with something at the bank. I think you’re coming around, though. Just don’t sweat the small stuff that you can’t control. 😊.
    I love the little 🐸 frog. We have those on our windows as well. And you’re right; they eat bugs, mosquitoes, etc. Whenever I see a new “visitor” around the house (fox, turkey, bear, or hawk – we’ve had all these and more), I like to marvel at it. And yes, I even talk to the critters; and that’s when my wife reads me the riot act, when I start calling the 🐻 bear! 😊. Nothing like enjoying the outdoors!
    Have a great week!!

    • Wow Chris, you DO have lots of fun critters! I see very few hawks and NO turkeys or bears on my home ground. Aren’t humans lucky to have such fun company to share space with? I am gradually learning not to sweat the small stuff and lately, not even the medium stuff. 😀 Hope you are having a great week. Tell the animals I said hello.

  5. I love your honesty. I am learning – for we are always on this learning pathway – that I can counteract what I feel is unjust, but doing the opposite. There are too many cars, with one passenger, on the road. I counter it by walking everywhere or by riding in a car with more than one person. We live in a fast-paced world that demands our immediate attention and quick responses. I am learning to take a deep breath before making decisions. But I am still learning as I go along.

    • These are great thoughts. I too enjoy being able to walk rather than drive. Now that I moved farther from the city, I can no longer walk to the grocery, post office, restaurant, shops, etc. but I can park only once at a shopping area and walk to everywhere I need to go from there, before returning to my car. I also make it a point to combine trips or share rides whenever I can. Though I didn’t mention it in the post, taking everything as a learning opportunity, as you suggested, helps tremendously. During the year immediately following Jeff’s death, when many sorrows indirectly related to that kept hitting me in waves, I learned to ask “Lord, what are you trying to teach me here?” It did help me re-frame circumstances and look for something positive to come out of what seemed like a heartbreak or a setback.

      • You continue to inspire me with a thoughtful and meditative approach to life. I love they way you bring out “teach” as a vibrant opportunity to explore grace and reverence. Many hugs!

        • Thank you, Clanmother, for those kind words. To hear them from one who is herself so good at inspiring others is a true compliment. I am so happy you are with us here in cyberspace. Sending many hugs to you as well!

  6. Lydia

    Following your theme but going probably on a different direction, I tend to dwell on past errors and/or painful memories which I cannot change. So, following the biblical teaching, I have decided as the apostle Paul so wisely puts it in Philippians 4 “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The peace and joy that comes from it is worth it.

    • That is such a beautiful verse, isn’t it? Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Pressing on” that’s based on that passage, and part of it says “Shake the dust off of your feet, don’t look back. Nothing can hold you down, nothing that you lack.” It’s not always easy to do, but as you say, the rewards are worth it!

  7. Sheila

    Good “hump day” morning, Julia. We have shared both sympathy and understanding over the many years of our friendship. I love to describe us as “ you’re so smart and I’m so understanding” time and again! I bet there were giggles as you and Carla enjoyed that little windowsill visitor. 🐸 There is a contentment in your recent posts that makes me more than happy. “Never give up” and you didn’t! 💛 I really don’t know anything about Nepal but I really love our April Verandah, dear girl! Have a great day as hugs cross the miles for you and Matt. ♥️💙

    • Sheila, Nepal is the perfect place for Club Verandah this month! I showed the April picture to our dear friend Nishchal, who is from Kathmandu (you may have met him at Jeff’s funeral; he and his brother sat with Matt). He’s an American citizen now but he goes back to visit family in Nepal every few years. He says that Nuwakot (the place in the photo, which he says is a hotel; I think it’s this one) is fairly close to Kathmandu so we can fly into there and hop on over to enjoy the view in real life! In my dreams!! But he says it’s not very expensive to visit there. That view is worth whatever it costs to get there, I’m sure! I love hearing about Nepal from Nishchal. It seems like such an exotic place to me, maybe because of that first Indiana Jones movie! Hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead. ❤
      For more pics of Nuwakot see: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Nuwakot+Nepal&atb=v98-5zq&iax=images&ia=images

      • April Verandah in Nepal?
        I’m in! 🙂

        • Yep, it’s gorgeous! And the imaginary journey is much shorter than going there in person.

  8. Alan Malizia

    Julia, Excellent post that all can identify with. Often there are those things that push our buttons. We can either allow them to send us off the rails or we can stop and ask: Is there anything that I can truly do, other than to satisfying my frustration? Or is it simply an exercise in futility, where all that is accomplished is further exacerbation.
    When I reach that point I then come to a conclusion that takes the sword from my hand. And it is this…that the final will of God, the creator of all this, one day will be done. All other seemingly important things will be left on the threshing floor.
    -Alan

    • Alan, such a good truth to keep in mind. Even at my (hopefully not too near death) age, in the process of clearing out the accumulations of many years, I’ve come to realize how much that once seemed crucially important to us does not survive the test of time. It’s surprising how little of what we look back on seems, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been something to prioritize. Once when I borrowed my mother’s BRAND NEW wheelchair (the first one she ever bought) to use to for a visiting friend, I ended up dropping it from the car trunk onto the pavement and tearing the nice padding on the handle. When I came back to my parents’ home with it I went to Mama and Daddy and said “I’ve got some bad news.” They just laughed when I showed them the nice new chair with the torn handle. “Oh, THAT’S TERRIBLE!” my father said with good-humored sarcasm. “But that’s your brand new chair,” I insisted. Mama said it didn’t matter, and Daddy said “when you get to be our age, you realize how little that kind of thing matters.” Now I can still hear their words years later and that’s one of my favorite and most edifying memories.

      • Thank you for sharing that example, Julia. Your parents were precious. Aren’t you glad to be related? 😀

        • Yes, I am! 🙂 ❤

  9. Harry S

    One year on Christmas Eve Santa C. a member of the South Pole Group made his annual meeting of AA visit to Warner Robins Ga along with Rudolph the Redneck reindeer along with several others from the South Pole.
    This one year they gave refrigerator door FROGS with the accompanying implication;
    FROG
    Fully
    Rely
    On
    God

    Harry aka Santa C.

    • Harry, a friend of mine gave Matt a cute stuffed Frog not long after Jeff died, and she put a tag around its neck with that same message. I thought it was very clever.

  10. Good morning, Julia! Thank you for your observation: “Like work, traffic will always expand to fit the space allowed for it. It’s a problem that will never be totally solved, and fretting over it continually will profit us nothing.” I believe Victor Frankel (Man’s Search for Meaning?) said the same about suffering expanding to fill all available space.
    It’s a good caution, to check our perceptions against reality (if we can see clearly to do so). It takes practice, certainly.
    Blessings to you and Matt!

    • Wow, Susan, if traffic or work expanding to fill all the space allowed is a bad thing, that’s nothing compared to suffering doing the same. On reflection, though, it does seem possible. Misfortune often seems to be a vicious cycle– at least to the one experiencing the blows– but it may have to do with our tendency to see everything else through the lens of our troubles. Yes, it does take practice! Thanks for being here; hope you are having a great week. It got up to 80 here yesterday, and today is supposed to do the same. I’ve been enjoying the warmth.

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