Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Serenity Prayer Examined

When I was in junior college ten years ago, I had the pleasure of taking a class with and occasionally talking with young man named John who lived the majority of his waking life out of a wheel chair. I was sad for him as I would see his mom drop and pick him up in a big green van that had a special wheel chair assist device on it. I had pity because he was crippled and he was not able to do many things that I could and would. “He couldn’t even pee by himself,” I thought as I would see a bag that I knew that was connected to a catheter.

Sometimes I would talk with him and I know reflecting back that I talked with him with a your so sad tone and I am sure I was not the only one and I am sure it could be very irritating to cripples when they are talked down to in this manner. What I didn’t know is that at some point in our conversations he had sympathy towards me too.

One day he blurted something out after I went on to make some comment like how good he was doing to be going to school. Out of nowhere he hit me with, “I get up in the morning just to get up.”

What I didn’t know is that maybe John knew something about me. I hadn’t told him that I remember that my dad had just died, that I was coming off of a severe drug addiction, that I was still on probation and had been in a treatment facility for a year prior to this. I am sure he could tell something was wrong with me though. I am sure he could tell I was bothered, crazy, lost, and while I tried to show how healthy I was on the outside and that I had made huge improvements to be proud of no doubt, I was still very sick indeed.

I asked, “What?”

He said again but louder, “I get up in the morning just to get up. Do you even understand at all what I am talking about?” He was getting a bit agitated now in his questioning me.
I knew this was code to some extent and I tried to figure it out, saying, “I guess it means you have your day free to do what you want.”

He said, “kind of,” and try as I may, I was never quite given the explanation of what it meant as the whole conversation grew a bit uncomfortable. A few years later, I was in the Peace Corps, living a comfortable and exciting life and many mornings, I would wake up in the morning just to wake up, which is something that I feel like for the most part only young children and the elderly ever do.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning now that I am on vacation after I have been lying down and sleeping for ten hours (I sleep a lot). So for ten hours, I have not been bothering anyone else and nobody else has been bothering me. Literally, I have been at peace, a state of neutral, a state of not doing anything for ten hours. Nobody for the most part is directly harming or helping me and I the same to them. So when I wake up, if I wake up mad at someone, if I wake up loving someone, it is all in my head. It is a reality that I am making. Not only that, it is a reality I have chosen to create.

In doing this, in creating such a reality, I am not living in the here and now, I am already off in some kind of drama in my head. But when I wake up and I don’t create a reality of drama for myself, I can wake up, to simply just wake up. Move and act to simply just move and act. Again, I think the very old and very young are very good at this very thing. So why is that?

I would like to diverge for a minute to the serenity prayer, a prayer that time and time again has proven to be so wise and powerful in my life. It says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” For children, it is so easy to do this because they cannot change anything really and haven’t been able to ever. This is one of the few things in life they know. While this wisdom on a child’s part might not be wisdom in the traditional sense as it is the fate they have fallen into, it is nonetheless a sort of wisdom all the same. For many children, it is quite simply, “I can’t change anything and I know it.” Other children, the ones that think they can change things often have such a harder time in life throwing tantrums, whining and crying for really in the end no change at all.

Old people are similar in a way. They too cannot change much as most of their life has already been decided. They still can change some things though and so the elderly sit and wait patiently to change those things they can, accepting that almost everything else they cannot change.

It is the rest of us, the middle grounders in life, those of us that are not too young or too elderly, off in the peace corps, or rolling around in chairs that have a hard time with this thing, this coming to terms with things out of our control, and striving to change the things we actually can, and having the intelligence to know the difference. It comes down to accepting our limitations and making the most of our abilities. Sounds simple but how confusing it actually gets along the way.

The person that gets out of bed in the morning in the here and now is a person that has indeed accepted all of their limitations. This person has figured out for the most part what they cannot get away with in life and is okay with it. Such a person might not know all of their abilities though, they might know that they are capable of getting out of bed in the morning but they might not also know what else they can do. At least such a person is on the road to discover the possibilities of what can really be done and not bothered by what cannot be achieved.

I guess another way of making this whole point is that it is good to know what oneself cannot do but even better to also know what a person can do too.

And here in lies the secret in the end, the wisdom to know the difference. Just a few words in a sentence arranged in way that if said it would seem like a person was asking God for just the smallest of favors but in reality, these few words when realized show represent a person that is on their way to having their maximum potentiality fulfilled.

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