If you run an internet search for "this one thing", you'll come across scores of lay sermons about the 1991 film City Slickers. If you haven't seen it, the following exchange occurs between Jack Palance and Billy Crystal:
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
Mitch: But what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what you have to find out.
Most of these rants, essays, and articles have advice on how to find the meaning of life, how to know when you've got it, and what to do after that. I'm gonna toss my hat in the ring from a different perspective.
You were born with a unique perspective, personality, and mission to fulfill. You are an entire world of possibilities. You have a piece of the puzzle without which we cannot complete the Big Picture. As the adage goes, you are indeed unique, just like everyone else.
As the years go by and I am privileged to work with various animals, I'm struck by how self-possessed they are. I've had one dog who was truly a basket case; he'd been put in a leadership role and he was by nature a submissive dog. Frustrated, confused, and inept, he acted out to the point that the only attention he got was negative. When he was placed with the right family in a laid back, multi-dog environment, he changed completely. No longer burdened by what he assumed he had to do, he exuded joy, confidence, and personality.
You can read about my love of Thoroughbreds in older posts. To sum up, watching them run is as close as I can get to religious ecstasy. As I've said before, they know exactly what they were put on earth to do, and they are doing it.
Zeke embodies the same message of spirit. Like the US Postal Service,
“Neither rain nor snow, nor sleet nor dark of night shall stay [this] courier from the swift completion of [his] appointed rounds.” They ought to have added, 'nor broken pelvis'. While neither neighbors, nor I, nor ChIla, nor Nick, nor Dr. Cecil were able to coerce Zeke to stand, duty compelled him to limp around the perimeter of his ducks and sheep. Five days after breaking his pelvis, Zeke insisted on limping out to "help" me move the horses and sheep. I walked slowly and insisted the horses walk as well. He downed himself several times and lay happily in the pasture for awhile after chores were done. He's now underneath the couch, whining because no one is doing anything.
Keeping Zeke still enough to heal is already a Herculean feat! His mother comes from cattle lines; he is a 47.8lb herding machine, bred to take a beating from a 1,000lb steer, shake it off, and get the job done. For most domestic dogs, the desire to please overrides their personal interests. For Zeke, The Flock supercedes obedience, pain, weather, food...everything but me leaving. His dedication borders on neurosis, a dangerous myopia that requires finesse in handling.
Zeke doesn't have to ponder his "one thing". I'm certain that if I asked him what the meaning of life is, he'd laugh and respond that there is no meaning, only living. Most animals would concur. Why, then, do we expend so much energy on the question? We take a speciesist approach to life, believing that we're superior, and in acting from that place we lose the ability to see the One Thing that matters.
You don't need me to tell you what it is. You already know. The One Thing is what surfaces in the moments that drop you to your knees, be it in prayer, thanksgiving, anguish, sorrow, supplication, or relief. When impending loss or peril focus your mind, your purpose or mission appears before you. It was always there, clouded by what you thought you had to do to make a living or be acceptable. You don't need anyone to tell you how to find who you are. You simply have to turn off the outside noise and tune into yourself. Then act with courage.
"Uber Alles" is German for "over all". Your "one thing" is what drives you. It's what you are, not what you do. For me, the following applies:
*What do I do when I don't have to? (Not what I think I would do. These are opportunities I've taken action on when it wasn't easy or required.)
*What do I think positively about first thing in the morning and last thing at night? (I used to wake up and go to bed loathing myself and dreading the coming day. Now, like Zeke, I wake up eager to face 16hr days with uncertain challenges, rewards, and outcomes.)
*What do I love that I have talked myself out of? (I talked myself out of auditioning at IUS 4 times before I finally committed.)
*What am I undeniably good at?
*What value(s) creep into everything I do?
It's not that simple. If it were, everyone would be doing it and we'd all be happy. Right? I know I'm not there yet.
But it is that simple, when and if we allow it to be. When we allow us to be. I'm getting closer. I have moments when I feel absolutely sure of myself, even if I make a mistake. I'm working on stringing those moments together. Zeke is showing me how.