This Is Really Happening

The other night I was reading my daughter one of our favorite children’s books by Mo Willems, “Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct.” The story is not so much about Edwina the dinosaur as it is about Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie, the elementary school hero who sets out to prove everybody wrong about the existence of the friendly neighborhood dinosaur. Dinosaurs can’t exist, he tells his teacher and his peers, through word of mouth, paper flyers, and Powerpoint presentations. But they get sidetracked by thinking about Edwina’s chocolate chip cookies, which are so good they don’t care what Reginald has to say.

The part in the story that always makes me crack up is the scene of recess, where Edwina is passing out cookies and everyone is enjoying them, and Reginald is holding a protest sign that says “This is not happening.”

How many times have I rejected what is happening right before my eyes, have failed to accept life as it is?

Divorce, or any kind of violent, sudden change, can certainly do this to a person. It seems wild to think that two people who once held such an intimate and sacred bond could become so distant, so full of animosity toward one another. (Unless it’s a friendly divorce, and if you’re lucky enough to have that, I commend you.) A friend and I both agreed that we used to marvel how two people could love each other so much, and how that love could disappear. Now, post-divorce, we marvel more about how that love can stay.

There have been a few times in my life where what my mind said should happen—a promotion at work, a successful romantic relationship, a reunion with an old friend—defied what actually did happen. Times when I, however begrudgingly, had to practice accepting that reality did not exist in my head, but manifested through powers beyond my control.

I had a certain schema set out for my life. I was going to get married, stay married, have two or more kids. I was going to live in a nice house, have a hands-on job I was passionate about, be outwardly successful. Et cetera. Et cetera.  Instead, I’m a single mom who lives in an apartment and works in a field I wouldn’t have expected. Outside of sleeping, I spend most of my waking hours in a cubicle and don’t see my kids for five-day stretches at a time. It’s not a bad life, but it’s hard in some ways and easier in others. Mostly, it’s just different. While I have plenty to be grateful for, there’s a part of me that, for a couple of years now, has been like Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie, saying inwardly, “This is not happening.”

But it is.

In case you want the spoiler for this book, I’ll give it to you. (It’s short anyway.) Reginald protests so much that finally, someone agrees to listen to him. It’s Edwina the dinosaur. Reginald gives a persuasive argument that demonstrates she cannot possibly exist. She is shocked and realizes he is right. And yet, she does exist. Her chocolate chip cookies are good evidence. So Reginald gives in. He is tired of arguing, tired of trying to prove his point. He, like all of us eventually, accepts that logic, that fairness, that the best and most well-intentioned argument doesn’t always win in life. The only thing we have power over is how we behave in the “now.”

It is accepting and embracing the present moment, as all the gurus will tell you, where happiness lies. We can reduce our suffering. We can live in a state of grace. But it means ridding ourselves of our presumptions and being mindful of what actually is rather than our thoughts about what should be. In order to achieve that happiness, we can’t stomp around in our heads like a kid with a protest sign saying, “This is not happening.”

And the bonus to giving in, to acceptance?

The opportunity to fully enjoy magical things like warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies. And the possible, otherworldly existence of dinosaurs.


Categories: spirituality and faith

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