May 4, 2019

A Cul-de-Sac Life


I don't remember where I read the phrase, a cul-de-sac life, but I love it. Growing up in America, my family always aspired to live on a cul-de-sac. Not as fancy as the one pictured above, but still, a dead-end street.

Why? To help protect children from cars. The belief was that no one would drive into a cul-de-sac unless they lived there, and those folks would be watchful and careful of any kids playing or biking in the street.

Interestingly, as I think about it, none of the 14 different houses (Yep...that many) I lived in while growing up was on a cul-de-sac. Even so, none of us was ever injured, though sadly we did lose a dog to a car right in front of our home. Stickball and street hockey, dodgeball, or playing catch happened whenever we could find the time. A car came down the street, we moved out of the way until it was safe, and then resumed our activities.

The image of a cul-de-sac is one I hadn't really thought about until I read that sentence. It could be a powerful metaphor for how we sometimes approach life. Staying uninjured is a good thing. But, trying to protect ourselves from all trouble or things that can go bump in the night is a fool's errand. 

Control is a myth. It is a falsehood we tell ourselves to feel better. 

Yes, we have a major influence on how parts of our lives unfold. Good stewardship of our financial resources and paying attention to what we put into and how we care for our body can make big differences in the quality of our life. But, we have zero control over the genetic makeup that determines our lifespan, our likelihood of contracting a serious or fatal disease, or the financial decisions made by others that directly impact our personal bottom line.

We have a modicum of control over relationships. But, people can change in ways that put enough stress on things to shred seemingly solid ties. Children develop in ways we may not like, but at some point what each does is no longer under our influence.

All this isn't meant to paint a picture of doom and gloom, of a fate larger than us rolling the cosmic dice and determining our path. Instead it is a suggestion to accept what happens in the world to us is not so much controlled by anyone or anything, but by the rules of nature that were created when the universe was formed. What happens at a particular moment is the only thing that can happen based on all the factors at play.

The hurricane destroys a home because all the natural forces that affect weather and climate create a storm that could not do anything else than form and move the way it does. The cancer forms in a body because the genetics and environmental factors that exist must have that end result. There is no other way something different could occur. A child takes a path in life that seems to be counter to all we taught and hoped for. He or she is made up of so many moving parts that the end result is what it must be.

Actually, this way of thinking should bring comfort. There isn't a cosmic force that is angry at you so bad things happen. Everything that occurs, at every moment of time, can only occur in exactly that way based on the way the universe exists. You experience something, good or bad, because there is no other outcome possible with the combination of all the factors at that instant.

So, if trying to live in a safe cul-de-sac doesn't work, what are we supposed to do? Realize that good and bad, up and down, success and failure are "baked into" the design of the universe. Each will happen at a particular time and place because there is no other way the factors could have turned out. 

What we can "control" is out attitude toward each of these momentary happenings: enjoy and smile when good happens, be upset when bad happens but don't take it personally. Get through it the best way you can, adjust, and keep moving forward. Don't take credit for all your good fortune, don't beat yourself up when the world seems to be against you. Because it is not. It just is the only way it can be.

28 comments:

  1. Hi Bob. Your sabbatical may have turned out to be a very good thing. Your writing, since you've been back, has been superb. Thank you for your wisdom and much needed insight.
    C.

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    1. Thank you! I did come back feeling able to tackle the familiar subject of retirement from a much broader perspective. Now, I am able to address subjects that are relevant to our age group, retired or not.

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  2. Love the post Bob. The last paragraph sums it up beautifully. If I had written the post, I'm sure the title would have been "Shit Happens". or maybe "It's Not Always About You". I too seem to be leaving the world of mud slinging and into a more philosophical mode. Maybe that is our cocoon protecting our sanity?

    We all need encouragement during these times, thanks for providing a little of that today.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed my random thoughts, RJ. Sometimes it is good to look at a bigger picture and realize the universe doesn't revolve around us and our needs.

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  3. Actually, we have a tremendous amount of control over the likelihood of contracting a serious disease. Watch Forks Over Knives on Netflix. Read books by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Fuhrman, Dr. Dean Ornish. If you are not educated about current health research, please don't write about it.

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    1. A diet can't change your genetic makeup. And I don't see Bob painting himself as a health expert, just stating the obvious. My sister died of a brain tumor at 33. Do you think she could have avoided that with diet? If you have that answer, I suggest you contact national brain tumor researchers and share.

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    2. I actually am educated about current research as well as being the mother of a holistic nutritionist. Diet is only one thing that affects our lives. There are a host of other causes, many of which we cannot control. My huband contracted hep by getting a blood transfusion for a while having a lung operation to treat a condition he was born with...one that had nothing to do with moms pregnancy behavior. I have a son with life threatening asthma since birth, unaffected by any diet issues. Generalizations and judgements are just that.

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    3. Kathy, no one is arguing that a diet of hamburgers and french fries doesn't have a long term cost. But, following a certain diet or health regime doesn't stop a 7 year old from developing leukemia, or a healthy long distance runner (Jim Fixx) dropping dead of an inherited heart disease. It can't prevent Alzheimer's.

      Obviously, step in front of a speeding bus and bad things are going to happen. But, being in a bus that crashes is not within your control.

      Hope, you are correct. This post is about the forces that a mind greater than ours put in place at the creation of the universe. We must learn to follow common sense guidelines to protect ourselves and our loved ones. But, as your sister's situation proves, there are forces at work that as human beings we can't affect.

      I am sorry for your loss, Helen.

      Barb, you have stated things well. The universe is too complex for one or two factors to answer all questions and provide for a safe passage through life.

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  4. I live on a cul-de-sac with seven houses and we have a hill which is a kid magnet summer and winter. It is a safe place for them to play in the street. Cars don't come here without a reason but joggers love us.

    But I understand the point you're making and I agree that we worry too much about things can't control. The universe is a place of yen and yang, positive and negatives, good and bad---always has been, always will be. But I'm in the camp that believes we need to send out what we want back.

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    1. We can, and should, make our corner of the world better, in terms of our relationship to other people. When the "universe" does what it is going to do based on the laws of nature, we can help people rebuild their lives and show compassion. Unfortunately, we don't have much say in the causes of all that destress but we do in how we respond.

      BTW, my daughter lives on a cul-de-sac. Her kids (my grandkids) are able to to ride their bikes and play catch in the street more safely than on a pass through street, all while being aware of the cars of neighbors who do drive in and out of the neighborhood.

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  5. Agree, there's a lot we don't control, but as you say, "we have a major influence on how parts of our lives unfold." It's a big mistake for people not to believe in free choice ... it takes away the empowerment in our lives.

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    1. I am a firm believer in free choice within those areas we can control. I can choose how to behave with another person, whether to do something that hurts or harms the environment, whether to ignore my doctor's advice about diet (see Kathy's comment above), and whether to wear a helmet while bike riding.

      I can't choose my parents, my DNA, or much about my upbringing, but I can decide how to respond to all of that.

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  6. I agree with C above. Your writing has taken an amazing turn.
    Calvinism, that is what you speak of here. I understand that is how it feels sometime. Personally, I believe in free will that may change the course of certain things.
    When it comes to children, I have always had the attitude that I should not interfere with their free will too much- for that is what makes them an adult. I have taught enough "naughty" kids who turned out to be geniuses, if I let them progress with bumper guards. Unless they die, there is something for them to learn in all of their, sometimes, misery.
    Not interfering with their free will is important to me.
    As far as a cup-de-sac. I grew up on one in Phoenix. A man died in our front yard .He was confused and hit the street sign trying to turn around. No seat belts and speed were his free will that day. That he didn't kill a kid was the training of the 20 moms on the block. They had taught us the bumper guard of SCATTER!

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    1. Janette, check out my response to Tom above. I do not believe in Calvinism at all. If I didn't believe I had free will than my life would seem no different than an animal in a zoo or a puppet on a string- controlled by something else. In my view, the idea that God determined at the beginning of time whether I would be saved or go to a literal hell is simply an idea designed to help control people and scare them into doing what other people want.

      Free will is what makes us human beings. However, we do live in a natural world that can ignore our choices with constant regularity. How we respond is a demonstration of free will.

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  7. I, too, am loving your writing and topics since your return. This is a great concept, and I think one that is more obvious as we age and have more experiences in life. We just can't keep ourselves safe from things that happen to humans. Yes, we do have some control over certain things, but overall, a lot of things are out of our control.

    My 87 yo mom always says QTIP. Quit Taking It Personally. A great reminder for me on many fronts.

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    1. I like that - QTIP. Thank your mom for me. That could be the basis of a future post!

      It is so much easier to accept bad or disappointing things in our life when we accept that we are not God, that we didn't build this place...we are only tenants with some rights but not the ability to redesign the building to our specifications!

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  8. Interesting post, Bob. I have intersected with many people who think the world is against them, as you know, from my book. But, I worry that this generation has been coddled so much they will have serious issues as they go out on their own. I'm grateful my sons have become really good fathers. They had a good role model, that's for sure. It's important to let go and watch them work things out on their own.
    b

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    1. As parents we desperately want to "fix" things so our kids don't suffer or make too many mistakes. But, they are human beings with the same free will to make good or bad choices as us. That is a hard lesson for those of us who are parents to learn.

      The recent story of parents paying millions to get their children into top universities is an excellent example of trying to over-control something. If the child isn't qualified he or she will struggle and likely flunk out or leave. What does that do to their self esteem and long term prospects? No matter how rich they may be, parents can't buy their children's future success.

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    2. Yes, the college application fiasco is just bad on so many levels. I've always felt that natural consequences teach as much or more than I ever could.

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    3. "But, I worry that this generation has been coddled so much they will have serious issues as they go out on their own."

      Said every older generation that has ever existed. One way or another the youth of today will make their way. They always have before and really what other choice is there? Besides young people are resilient and resourceful, they'll figure things out one way or another.

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  9. Another interesting post and metaphor for life, Bob. While I understand the ideas people have about cul-de-sacs protecting them from life, I prefer to live on the somewhat busy through street which allows us to watch the world go by and be a bit more a part of it.

    I often think of my wife's dad in this context. While he was a devoted and loving father and grandfather, he also refused to coddle his kids and grandkids. I recall visiting him while his 5 year old grandchild climbed a tree behind us. We were squirming a bit and suggested to him that maybe she was climbing a bit too high. He responded, only half-jokingly, that if she fell and broke an arm she would know she shouldn't do that in future. It sounds harsh, but he believed in allowing kids to explore and learn lessons themselves, within reason.

    And back to cul-de-sacs, growing up as a hockey player in Canada I remember watching the clock in school until the time we could rush home and play road hockey. We were in a somewhat older neighbourhood without cul-de-sacs, but would find a quieter sidestreet and set up our nets. When a car came we would simply yell "CAR!!!!", move our nets out of the way, and resume the game after it went by. Thanks again for the memories.

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    1. Too many parents forget what it was like growing up in the 40's, 50's or 60's when mom and dad said be home by dark or when the dinner bell rings. Otherwise, go have fun and be a kid.

      Yes, the world is a more dangerous place now, but much of the fear is self-generated by the news and social chatter all around us. I wouldn't be comfortable being as free-for-all as your father-in-law and the tree, but it is important children learn to trust themselves and their instincts. After a young age (under 5? )most are very well aware of what is dangerous and what is not.

      Glad this brought back memories, Dave!

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  10. I enjoy reading your posts on issues that affect us retirees. You pushed a few buttons for some readers with this post, I see. We do have free will which God gave us, and yet many forces around us are not in our control.

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    1. You are correct: both free will and God's design for the universe coexist. Too often we forget half of that equation.

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  11. Good post, interesting discussion. But actually, the world is less dangerous today than when we were kids. Less crime, safer cars, more protective sports equipment, more vaccinations and better health care in general . . . and a lower child death rate.

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    1. That is true in this country. The odds are good for most of us to get from childhood to retirement without facing serious dangers. Unfortunately, in too many parts of the world that reality isn't reality.

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  12. Bob, this is the age-old question - where we place ourselves on the continuum between helpless fatalism and neurotic obsession with trying to control everything. Of course, both things are true. There are some things that out of our hands or purely chance occurrences, and other things where we truly can make a difference, especially if we work together (think climate change). I think the serenity prayer sums it up: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”

    Jude

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