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Irons in the fire: Does it matter who left the gate open?

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 29 April 2019

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing – your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
—Viktor Frankl

Anybody who’s ever lived, and especially anybody who’s ever tried to raise kids or cattle, knows you can’t avoid making choices. As a matter of fact, that is really an absurd statement. You can’t even function without making a choice. It’s a choice to simply get out of bed, walk out the door, do the chores or wave to your neighbor as she drives past.

Some of these things hardly seem to qualify as choices. They’re just automatic. Yet nothing is automatically automatic. Just ask the mother of just about any 10- or 11-year-old boy. I’ve noticed personal hygiene isn’t really high on the priority list of a lot of kids that age. They don’t always make the choice that is aromatically pleasing to everyone around them. Add half-a-dozen years on those same kids, mix in a pretty girl and a romantic inclination or two, and a daily shower and a splash of deodorant turns into an automatic choice.

When I take an occasional glance back at life’s road behind me, I see plenty of bends and intersections littered with fodder – the results of what turned out to be perhaps not the wisest decisions. I think it’s good to take a peek in the rear-view mirror every once in a while. Every now and then, the road circles back to a spot I’ve been before. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of a wreck that was, or almost was, so I can swing wide or take another street altogether. Sometimes when I look back, I can see the sting I felt came from how I was shafted or taken advantage of by someone else.

You know what I mean. Like that bunch of heifers you bought, bred to calve in March to “calving ease Angus bulls.” Those were the same ones that calved from May through July. You ended up pulling half of those calves that looked an awful lot like Charolais-Holstein crosses. And, of course, there’s the neighbor you see as he goes to church every week – the same neighbor who you’re pretty sure took the upstream water out of turn back in July of ’97. That was the year you ended up having to buy 100 tons of hay to get you through to spring because your second crop was so poor. Oh, and let’s not forget the year your kids had to suffer through a near-giftless Christmas after you lost your job because of a witless imbecile for a boss.

It’s easy to look back on a good share of my misery and see how it was someone else’s fault. It had to be. That should make it a little easier to deal with, shouldn’t it – knowing it wasn’t my fault? I’m here to tell you, though, that’s a road best left untraveled. It’s nothing but a circle driveway leading to nowhere. Holding tight to blame and bitterness is like grabbing a broken night latch when you’re atop a rank one – you’re guaranteed to get bruised up. The guy on the other horse isn’t going to feel a thing.

I won’t give you a complete history lesson here, but if you don’t know who Victor Frankl is, look him up. Here’s the short version: He was an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. Among his immediate family, he alone miraculously survived the horrors of Theresienstadt, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz. His belief that, regardless of circumstance, every person has the ability to control his or her own response to whatever befalls them sustained him and became the basis for his passion and his life’s work.

No doubt, I’ve wasted too many minutes and hours and too much grief fretting about what someone else may or may not have done to me. In the end, I can’t change it. I can, however, change how I respond and react to anything. I still don’t put that mantra into practice as much as I should, but I’ve found my heart and my psyche take much less of a beating when I simply gather the cows and put them back through the gate rather than fret and cuss about whoever left the gate open. Besides, I was probably the guilty one anyway.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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