My dog had a nervous habit. Actually, if you ever met Sid when she was with us, you know that she had many nervous habits; but today we’re only talking about one.
When Sidney was stressed, which was often, she’d pick up a bone and carry it around for a little while, pacing the room in circles until she finally settled on a spot, flop down, and start gnawing on the bone. She would hold it in place with one of her paws and then chew, scrape and crunch without mercy or a break.
I learned quickly that the raw-hide chews, while more quiet, were a complete waste of money; she devoured them in seconds. Tennis balls got shredded. Fluffy toys, pulverized. But the thick shank was perfect; it survived months of nervous chewing.
I was always amazed at her tenacity. Whatever was in that bone must have been good. But I can’t imagine what it was. I evaluated it closely. It was clear that there was no meat on the bone. There is no marrow in the middle. It was an empty shell.
And yet, she crunched. She cracked. She shaved. She nibbled. Not once did she stop to stretch out the muscles of her jaw or check for possible tooth damage. She was so singularly focused that we could get up and leave the room without her noticing. I can’t imagine going after something so worthless with such a vengeance.
Then I think of my friend who has a drinking problem. He sips. He drinks. He gulps. He starts quiet and ends loud. He doesn’t stop to assess the damage. He keeps slugging back the drinks; first, the beer, then a glass or two of wine, and finally the harder stuff. His face gets flushed. His eyes get red. He doesn’t stop until the night ends in a fight, he’s driven home by an embarrassed friend, or someone calls the police.
There’s the woman in our church who spends every waking minute thinking about her children. How are they dressed? What activities are best for their future careers? Why didn’t they make the basketball team – is that coach stupid? Don’t hang out with that kid; his grades aren’t very good. Stand up straight. Get into the best college, drive the most beautiful car, date a better girl. It’s sad. She’s created two neurotic kids, and one who is the most rebellious young woman I’ve ever met, and this mother is working hard to destroy a fourth child even as I write this.
Or perhaps it is the man I know who works 80-hour weeks to prove his value, increase his stock in the company, and make a name for himself in the business community. He wakes before the rest of his family and is out the door before his kids are eating breakfast. He arrives home late because there is always one more call to make, one more meeting to attend, or one more fire to put out. Sure, he attends his kid’s soccer matches but stands off to the side, cell phone to his ear, talking animatedly about the next big thing. The work is always there and never ends. He has yet to consider where he will be in 20 years when his kids are gone, and his relationship with his wife is non-existent.
But these people are not alone. It doesn’t take much to realize that most of us have a bone of our own: Many of us chew nervously on one thing or the other. It might be children, or drink, or work, but just as easily it could be our image, exercise, or gossip. It could be travel, the cars we drive, the homes we live in, or the boats we polish in the warm summer sun. There’s no end to what we hold in our teeth when we lose focus on what matters most.
But let me ask you a question: Don’t your jaws get tired? Isn’t there a point when you want to release the bone? Aren’t you afraid that someday you’ll look up and you’ll realize that the bone you’ve been chewing has no flavor at all and what matters most has left the room?
So, for today, why not drop the bone. Hold the hand of a friend. Sit in the shade and drink a tall glass of tea. Listen to your children laugh. Read a novel or write a poem. If nothing else, call your mother. Turn up the radio and sing along at the top of your voice.
Put down the bone and go for a stroll in your neighborhood, …not a power walk, just a stroll. Find peace in your day. Discover the calm that comes from releasing the neurosis, putting down the preoccupation, and relaxing.
You’ll be glad you did.