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Stoicisms Most Important Question


I live in an impoverished rural area of Northern California populated by many people who operate meth labs and grow pot. I bought the house here because I could not afford housing prices anywhere else in California. I chose to remain in California for my retirement because at the time of the move I had a 13-year-old cat that was very ill with pancreatitis and I chose not to put him through a long road trip to Oregon or Washington. I'm not super happy about where I live but I also do not regret any of my choices because they were the very best I could have made at the time. (I live on Social Security Retirement - my mortgage is only $399.00 a month on a 3-bedroom house less than 15 years old - if I could find a better deal elsewhere, I'd move.)


One of the most painful issues about where I live is that people dump their unwanted animals here. That's how I ended up with my 4 cats. They were dumped here as kittens 2.5 years ago. All the shelters within a 120 mile radius refused to take them in because, according to them, it was "kitten season" and they were all booked up. (I like to believe there is a special place in hell for these animal dumpers.)


I'm glad I decided to keep them because we have become quite a family and they have become such good (and my only) companions during the pandemic.


A couple of weeks ago someone dumped an adult German Shepard mix on the road outside my home. I live at an intersection that seems to be a favorite spot for animal dumpers (despite my putting up warning signs, security lights, and cameras.) This poor creature, confused, scared, and wondering when its owner is coming back - it wanders the local roads daily. But yesterday I heard car horns blaring and the sounds of break screeching out front (my studios are in the back of the house) so I went and looked out the front window.


This poor dog was laying in the middle of the road and not moving out of the way when cars came up to it - one lady had stopped and gotten out of her car as others drove around it and seeing her, I stepped out on my front porch and hollered down - "Is it injured?" - she replied, "No, I don't think so." When she approached the dog it finally became scared and stood up and ran off.


10 minutes later, it was back in the middle of the intersection so I called the police - (we have very limited animal control up here) as it was, an officer did not respond until 6 hours later - they called me at 11:30 PM to say they could not find the dog - well, DUH.


Realizing that this animal was going to either cause an accident or get hit - I grabbed some dry cat food and filled a bowl with water and put them down on my front walkway and called to the dog - thinking I could get it to move off the road. Eventually, the dog came over, very timid and obviously terrified of people, I watched from inside the house as it ate a little and drank. Then went BACK to lay in the middle of the road, but now barking at nothing in particular - there was something obviously wrong with this dog, possibly rabies, so I called the police again which did absolutely no good. By this time the sun was setting and it gets really dark up here as we have no streetlights.


As night fell I could hear the sounds of horns and brakes screeching and I knew it was still out there - my heart was hurting so much for this abandoned animal and I could feel deep, primal anger and frustration rising within me. It was then that I remembered something I recently learned from my studies in Stoicism -


"What do I ACTUALLY have control over in this situation?"


Stoic Philosopher Epictetus argues that we actually control very little. We don't control what happens to us, we can't control what the people around us say or do, and we can't even fully control our own bodies, which get damaged and sick and ultimately die without regard for our preferences.


It was at the moment of recalling this lesson that I realized that my state of emotional turmoil was based NOT on what I could control or change - it was based on what was totally OUT OF MY CONTROL. Unless I wanted to drive myself into further emotional upset - I needed to LET GO of this. And I did.


There's no sign of the dog today -


But I wanted to share this story with you today because I suspect that many people do what I did in this situation yesterday - become very upset over something I had absolutely NO control over.


Until next time ...




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