I was about 12 years old when the city repaved the street my house was on. It was tiny black rocks embedded in tar. For some reason, my dog saw that shiny wet black tar and decided his entire purpose in life was to run through it and leave his mark. Or more like 840 marks in the shape of paw prints. I like to imagine his doggie thought process.
“I’m a good boy. They always say I’m a good boy. I can’t go wrong.”
Bertrand Ruffle (named after the philosopher Bertrand Russel, because yeah, we’re those people) was off to the races. My dad ran after him and as he did, he uttered a rare four-letter word. “Damn dog!” My dad was fast, but the dog was faster, until the tar built up on his paws and he was soon running in what amounted to the street version of the La Brea Tar Pits.
Bert was not a small dog, but my dad returned, carrying him like a baby. That dog had the biggest grin, his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth.
In a way, he was the embodiment of a picture my mom had hanging on her wall. It depicted a river full of alligators with a person on one side of it. Underneath it said, “The only way out is through,” a version of Robert Frost’s famous line “I can see no way but through,” although for Bert, going through seemed to be the whole destination, and it was Disneyland.
For most of us, “going through” is the hard part. The one where we flip our middle finger at the fact my dad had cancer way too young. The one where we fought that cancer for four years. The one where a dear friend recently lost her son to the grip of drug addiction, and another lost her loved one to the pandemic.
Recently, this last friend asked me very honestly and sincerely, “How do I get through this? How do I get rid of the pain? Is there a way?”
I only had two answers, and they weren’t great. One answer was “time.” The other was, “The only way out is through.”
I feel like we’ve all been through something these last few (four) years. No matter what side of the aisle you landed on, these past years have felt fraught with… fraughtness.
The river is fraught with alligators.
The woods are fraught with danger.
My kitchen is fraught with dirty dishes.
OK, that last one was probably never said aloud. But however you felt about the last few years, if you’re reading this, you made it through. And with COVID, I feel like we have two or three more alligators to dodge. A few more pit vipers to dance around.
But until then, I’m going to take a deep breath and watch videos of lawyers in very serious meetings, with cat filters over their real faces. And every time his kitty face rolls his eyes, and insists that he is not a cat, I’m going to let myself have a good belly laugh (Seriously, Google it), and instead of focusing on treacherous rivers we have yet to wade through, I’m going to count all of the ones we’ve navigated.
Call me a soft optimistic marshmallow. But maybe we’re the lucky ones.
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.