From a Teen’s Perspective: When bad things happen

by Dylan Lanier on August 22, 2023

Longtime readers of this column know how much I love my dog Tucker. He’s  my best friend and has been the subject of many of my articles. He’s an adorable, carefree nutball with a pension for chasing squirrels and eating as much as he can get his jaws on.

Tucker was having digestive issues last week so we took him to SAGE Veterinary Centers in Redwood City. They took an x-ray and determined there was a blockage in his stomach, but they were unsure if it was just food or something else. We took him home and crossed our fingers.

Tucker’s condition was on my mind throughout the next day — case in point, my friend Avery had to hear all about his stomach-churning, excessive “digestive ejections” at just 10:00 am (right before we had a break at school to eat). I didn’t know whether to laugh or worry. No one wants to imagine the worst case scenario, but most of us do. It’s natural to prepare yourself for the awful; after all, no one wants to be blindsided by devastating news.

No one in my family could decide whether to let his issues pass naturally (if you catch my drift) or to put him through surgery. We all agreed that the situation was serious, but Tucker is known for his unusual, rather idiotic appetite and we figured his stomach had probably handled worse.

A couple days later, I took him outside to relieve himself before bed. I saw the weight of his movement, the way he bowed his head and dragged his paws. I knew something was seriously wrong. Tucker’s signature pep had faded and left a lumbering shell behind. I laid in bed with a deep sense of unease.

While I was at school the next day, his condition worsened and my mom took him into the vet again. Further examination led the veterinarians to believe there was definitely an inorganic object trapped in his stomach and possibly in his small intestine, too. They sent Tucker into surgery soon after.

I came home looking for him. I called out his name a few times and checked his usual lounging spots. He was nowhere to be found. I dialed my mom and she told me where he was.

Now the benefit of having a loveable but unpredictable canine is that I have been through the ringer more than once. I reminded myself that each time we had worried about Tucker, he pulled through just fine. And that’s what I realized about the “freak accidents” and other “unfortunate events” in life — worrying doesn’t do a thing.

I used to tell myself that if I channeled my anxiety and my thoughts and my prayers I could prevent anything. But that’s just a lie I used to make myself feel better, and guess what, it didn’t even do that. Because all worrying does is stop you from processing the truth.

We will all face situations that blindside and challenge us. That’s a depressing thought, sure, but isn’t it just a tad bit reassuring? We can’t avoid misfortune any more than we can guarantee her golden counterpart.
What we can do is choose how we respond. I don’t mean sitting back and giving up – what if we stopped wasting our energy on worrying about the inevitable and instead saved it for when the inevitable arrived?

I don’t want to come across as a cynic (which would be sad since I theoretically haven’t lived long enough to be cynical). I hope your life is filled with joy and love and purpose — heck, I hope that’s the majority of it. But those things don’t live in a vacuum. If you hold your breath for the rest of your life, how will you ever smell the roses?

The surgeons found two pairs of underwear buried in Tucker’s gastrointestinal tract. If we had waited, he would have died. My brave boy (as I was sure to call him when he came home) is currently fast asleep, lying down on a belly covered in stitches. I expect myself to feel fear as I confront his vulnerability and ultimately, his mortality. But instead I feel love and I feel strength.

I am a grain of sand, rather helpless to the whims of the world. But I control my response, and in that way, I am the nexus of my own reality, not in the external but the internal — and isn’t reality constructed from the inside?

I don’t need to shake my fist at fate. I’d rather shake hands, and let him know that although he is my environment, he is not my existence. That — and I’ll put a lid on the laundry hamper next time.

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Dylan Lanier is a senior at Menlo-Atherton High School.

Tucker shown with neighborhood dog illustrated by Ashley Trail (c) 2023

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