I’m new to the newsroom and for the last seven-or-so weeks when I’m there, I’ve followed the Old English Proverb, “Keep your mouth shut, and your ears open.” I’ve been a sponge. Absorbing all around me to learn the journalism business, very careful what I say or do, trying to make a good impression. These mannerisms are difficult for someone who’s been known as “outspoken” or “opinionated” (the kinder terms) and for the type of person who, when showing light on a situation, is known to use a heat lamp.
At a recent Wednesday’s staff meeting, our editor, Marg, announced that there was an open spot this month and offered “the new guy” the opportunity to write his thoughts on a topic for a column.
I initially accepted this chance with more zeal and passion than any other assignment she gave me. Remember now, my first official story for the paper was on goats used as lawn mowers in Riverbank.
Plenty of ideas went through my head on what I could write about. After all, I was a cop for the last 26 years (yeah, there’s two of us on the staff now) and I had seen everything from the gutter to the glitter of what life had to offer.
Then, when sitting down at my laptop to write The Great American Column, the anxiety and apprehension set in. Could I write enough to fill the space? Would it be a good enough topic? I’ve never done anything like this! How much correcting will it need? Oh, the errors I’ve made before! Will anyone ever read it?
As I was peering into the dysfunctional crystal ball called my mind, battling my personal fear demons, I thought about a book I read earlier this year titled, “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle. It’s one of those self-help best sellers with the idea that living in the now is the truest path to happiness and enlightenment.
“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence,” Tolle writes. “Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past.”
While trying to focus on the “Now” and the “Now I need to get writing,” my left arm was nudged up and off my keyboard by a wet nose. I looked over at the coffee-brown eyes and inquisitively cocked V-shaped ears of my Bernese mountain dog, Dante, staring at me.
It was at that time I realized, despite reading over 200 pages of how to let my ego go and live fully in the present, that Dante was a 105-pound four-legged furry example on the “Now” way of life.
Besides also shamelessly recognizing that writing about one’s dog worked for John Grogan in “Marley and Me,” and Dante would be the perfect topic for my first column, I appreciated that Dante, in his mastering of the Zen of the Chew Toy, had truly lived his short 18 months of life by fulfilling every moment of his Now.
Dante had no stresses or a worry, never appeared to be in a funk, and was content with what the moment presented him. Sure, there was excitement at times in his Now, like when the leash was gotten off its hook or the sound of a Kraft cheese single unwrapping, but I am sure he never would lose sleep wondering when the next good moment or life’s treat would come his way.
Fear? Maybe, but only momentarily in his Now. A door bell ringing causes his big-dog bark of protection because “now” there may be a threat, but it truly ends there. Any intruder brave enough to get past his bark would be greeted as a friend, for in Dante’s Now, this person has not given him any reason to be negative toward him.
When Dante has been in trouble, usually for his landscaping design choices, whether it was for unwanted gardening (thanks OSH for your “just-bring-it-in” policy and believing that the nub attached to the root was really at one time a $24.99 hibiscus) or deciding that this week’s 2-foot wide hole looks good in the middle of the back lawn compared to last week’s layout of a lot more smaller ones, his angst from getting yelled at is quickly forgotten with no grudges held, because “now” I am done, no longer yelling at him, and —in his mantra of life — all is well again.
I could be gone two days, two hours, or two minutes, but Dante will always have the same “so glad to see you” reaction — galloping, jumping, tail going a mile-a-minute when I come through the door because “now” I am home. As Tolle stated and Dante practices, “Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”
Grogan wrote that Marley was “the world’s worst dog.” Not Dante. He’s been my loyal and affectionate companion, but I guess he also has been a life coach and Sensei of happiness.
Remember, Tolle noted, “Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”
And now, it looks like my first column is done.
Rich Paloma is a retired police officer and writes for The Riverbank News, The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at 847-3021.