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Wednesday, October 12, 2022


Tunnel, teeter-totter, and hurdles that Sunny is learning to master

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.


-      William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


This particular truth of Shakespeare’s is so often quoted out of context (almost always!) that we easily forget its role in the play and poor Malvolio as the victim of a humiliating practical joke, but just so, in the usual fashion, I too intend to shove Malvolio offstage and use Shakespeare’s words to introduce my own topic:


Some challenges we choose, others are thrust upon us.


I’ll begin with myself (since this is my blog). In my own quite ordinary life, a new puppy was a challenge I chose (not anticipating quite how much of a challenge she would be, but that’s a common story, too, I’m sure), while being transported to Widowland was a challenge life thrust upon me, for sure. Certain aspects of this truth doubtless apply to your life, as well, in that some challenges you would have avoided if possible, and others you probably went out of your way to embrace.


Some human beings are born into the world challenged, with physical handicaps or poverty thrust upon them from the very beginning. I can’t say I was “born on third base,” but I was born in the United States, broadly speaking into the middle class, of educated parents, and all that was a head start that I didn’t have to earn.




All these thoughts ran through my mind this morning as I was reading Jacob Wheeler’s new nonfiction book, Angel of the Garbage Dump: How Hanley Denning Changed the World One Child at a Time. Hanley Denning was a young woman from a comfortable American background whose life trajectory changed dramatically when she saw children living in extreme poverty in a garbage dump outside Guatemala City. Hearing the subject of this book, you might shudder and want to back away, fearing it would be too “depressing” to read, but such is far from the case, because Hanley’s determination to help the children was matched by her love for them and her ability to connect not only with children in Guatemala but with wealthy American donors to make a difference. Given all that, the story of the growth of Hanley’s nonprofit, Camino Seguro, or Safe Passage, is inspiring and uplifting. As I read this book, my head and heart are filled with images of children – and their parents – who find safety, joy, love, and learning in their challenging present, as well as hope for a better future. A wonderful story, well told by the publisher of Leelanau County’s Glen Arbor Sun.

An inspiring story!

Hanley Denning chose early on in life on the challenge of long-distance running, and she went on to choose the almost superhuman challenges of changing the lives of some of the poorest children in the Western hemisphere. Most of our lives are much tamer, but no life is immune to challenging situations.


Anne-Marie Ooman’s book, As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book, recounts challenges of a different kind. For most of Anne-Marie’s life, her own mother’s example was one she was determined not to follow. With five children born in six and a half years, both Oomen parents had to work hard to feed and clothe them all in rural northern Michigan, and the children had to work, too. Anne-Marie wanted a different kind of life -- and she wanted it away from the farm. Signing up for a college semester abroad, against her mother’s wishes, was one early blow she struck for her own freedom, determined to become a writer, not a housewife. While writing, however, was something Oomen chose, different challenges awaited her with the coming of her widowed mother’s old age. 

We can all learn from Anne-Marie's honest true tale.


When a parent can no longer live alone safely, how do adult children deal with the problem? Where does the money come from for increasing levels of care? What kinds of conversation are possible between unhappy aged parents and confused, guilt-ridden adult children? Are there ways to avoid the unhappy feelings of the two generations?


No one chooses old age. Inevitable it is, however, for those who live long -- the price of long life -- and however well prepared we may try to be, it cannot be otherwise than challenging. 


Where Jacob Wheeler’s book about Hanley Denning is inspiring for the enormous challenges his subject took upon herself, Anne-Marie Oomen writes of challenges more of us are likely to face, whether we want to or not. We can learn, though, from both books. From Wheeler’s, we see the enormous difference that one very other-directed person can make in the world. Yes, it can be done! From Oomen’s, looking ahead to very probable situations in our own lives, we can perhaps avoid some -- not all! -- of the problems she and her mother and siblings experienced, profiting by what the author would have liked to know and understand earlier. 


We will not all move to Guatemala, after all, but we are all getting older every day of our lives. 




One of the many wonderful things about dogs is that they don’t compare the lives they have to other possible lives. When a dog is sick or hurt, the dog doesn’t cry, “Why me?” and in a household with only one often boring adult, the dog doesn’t say, “I never asked to be born! I wish I had a different family!” I am the one who chose the challenges of learning agility work for Sunny Juliet, not Sunny herself, but she is responding whole-heartedly! The work exercises her mind along with her muscles. It requires her full attention, and her attention channels otherwise wild energy into focused energy. The payoff (besides generous treats throughout the exercises) is that after a lesson she and her classmate get to run around and play off-leash. Social time! Happy dogs! 


May we all meet the challenges of the day with courage and cheerful spirits --. 


Deborah said...

May we meet the challenges . . . with cheerful spirits. That's something I strive to do because often challenges thrust upon us seem overwhelming. Both books peak my interest. We were so lucky that our own Mother aged as she chose in her own home and didn't require our having to provide for her or force her to a move she didn't want.

P. J. Grath said...

Deborah, both of our parents were lucky to be able to at home -- Dad because Mother took care of him, Mothe because she was capable of caring for herself. And yes, we were very lucky to have them both healthy (Dad relatively so) and independent as long as they lived. Who knows what our own fates will be as we continue to age? So true -- many challenges are thrust upon us rather than chosen!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for new books to read from the queen of recommending books. I love your blogs please keep them up. Agility. What a great idea. When I got Bella 6 months after June died I had totally forgotten what a puppy requires. For me it gave me focus, joy and happiness.I hope you’re feeling the same. From the pictures you post I think you are. Miss you!

Jeanie Furlan said...

I like your inspiring, problem-solving books. Our challenges in this life are often helped by looking outside of ourselves, as these women have done. Also, what is up-lifting and mood-raising is to see your Sunny J jumping around with her friends, and hearing that she is benefiting from these specific types of classes! Doggie joy is so contagious!!

Karen Casebeer said...

Sunny looks so smart and alert in the first picture of her. Perfect dog for agility work. Enjoy!

P. J. Grath said...