My dad used to teach me about control through the serenity prayer. He never called it that, but he always told me about it when, as a teenager, I would exclaim about something exasperated by the ways of the world and those I’d mistakenly trusted. Here’s how it goes:
And I uploaded it like this because, that’s how I always imagined it when he told it to me. Like a piece of wisdom you get from your Grandmother, scribbled on some flowery stationary. It was always interesting to me to see my Dad, more a man of science than of God, turn to prayer, though I’m not sure if it was a prayer to him or a mantra. Our whole family seems to inhabit that nebulous spiritual but not religious space, though I don’t suppose that is important to this discussion.
So I was a kid, and I’d get mad and say something about how so and so did such and such and HOW UNFAIR! And he’d always tell me, as though I’d never heard it before, this prayer. And I suppose it stuck with me to a point but never quite smoothed over my indignation at the world and all of its unfairness. In fact, it is that very dissatisfaction with the world that led me to my career choice, trying to find ways to make it better. Years after my Dad introduced me to this prayer I saw a 60 Minutes episode about a dying man, a professor and a powerful lecture he gave (It’s totally worth the listen). He shares lessons about how to let go of what matters and what we should care about, about what is important to success, and you guessed it, how to let go of what you cannot control. His lesson is powerful, it stops you in your tracks, it makes you feel reflective in your life. It makes you wish that people wouldn’t have to be on the brink of death to give a last lecture and recognize and name that which is most important. It makes you wish you didn’t have to suffer loss to recognize how to value that which you lost.
I’ve been through a lot of stuff in the past 2 years, some I was a culpable part of and some I was not and as life keeps heaping on the sorrow I have learned something. I can’t control everyone else. I can’t control my body. I can’t control other people’s happiness. I can’t control other’s acceptance. I can’t control other’s hurt. I can’t control other’s anger. I can’t control my health. I can’t control love. I can’t control family. I can’t control hardly anything.
But I can control me. I can control my response. I can control my anger. I can control my indignation at having a brain tumor and still having other difficulties in life (I mean come on, shouldn’t a brain tumor be challenge enough?!). I can control how much love I share (endless, if your lucky enough to be on the receiving end). I can control my strength. I can control how I learn from things. I can control how I respond to what life throws me.
A friend told me the other day that I needed to stop worrying about everyone else being happy, or even about them being happy for me or with me or when I want them to be. She told me, if others choose not to share your joy, that is their decision. They made that choice, they must face the consequences of choosing anger, bitterness, vindictiveness or even a general bad attitude. All I can do is give them a space to partake in joy with me, to see the light in life that I strive to find each day, and hope they take it, the rest, well that is just out of my control.
Peace and love,