One of the things I don’t particularly like about myself, an “area for growth,” if you will, is my need to control situations. Not always in the obvious, bowl-everyone-over-and-announce-that-I-am-now-in-charge sort of way (though, admittedly, that happens too). More in the, I-need-to-at-least-hover-around sort of way. To me, being the pain in the ass who angrily demands answers from doctors when my grandmother has a stroke is my inept way of trying to deal with the fact that I have zero control over the creep of age that is now visibly chipping away at her. Being able to put my arms around my best friend, bust out some ice cream, and console her through a tough breakup is my way of asserting some sort of power into a situation I was powerless to stop. It’s because, in some distant corner of my mind, I seem to think that somehow, I can have an impact on things that are beyond the control of any mortal being. It’s a special sort of hubris, to even vaguely think that I would have the power to change these sorts of things, and it’s something I’ve never managed to fully shake.
The Serenity Prayer was a favorite of my mom’s, and growing up we both recited it and had it displayed proudly on a plaque in the dining room, a daily reminder:
It’s a solid tool to keep in your mental repertoire, astounding it’s simplicity and absolute truth in equal measure. It’s something I’ve found myself turning to more and more when things spiral out of control as I grow older. And I’ve got most of it down. Courage to change the things I can? I have it in spades. Wisdom to know the difference? More or less, I’ve learned (often the hard way), what can and cannot be changed in the literal sense of the word. But I still get hung up on the first virtue, the namesake of the prayer: Serenity. Accept what I can’t change? Not in a million years. I have to somehow, in some weird corner of my mind, be able to do SOMETHING about it, even when I know on an intellectual level that there is really not much I can do.
But planting myself halfway around the globe from the people I love has been teaching me a whole new level of accepting that I can’t even perform the small actions that make me feel like I have controlled something. News of a dear friend’s health trouble comes in, and I can’t rush to the hospital to support, I have to do my best with inept phone calls and text message checkins – “Any news?” or “Let me know what I can do.” But I know the answer is, from 11,000+ miles away, that there is nothing I can do. No hand to hold, back to rub, hug to give, lasagna to make. No way to insert some sort of control over a situation I never really controlled in the first place. It’s a humbling and aggravating feeling, sitting here at my house, checking my phone, waiting to hear news and knowing I’m not even able to be supportive in any meaningful sort of way other than a call.
And this (fingers crossed), will end up to be nothing, just a scare, and everything will be ok. But even if that’s the case, I’ve realized that this is just a warmup for what the next couple of years will be like. This will not be the first scary or bad thing that will happen to people I care about at home. And when they happen, I will only have these same ineffectual tools with which to insert my control. I will have to define the line of serious events with a stricter criteria, because now rushing home isn’t a two hour flight and few hundred bucks, it’s over half a day and few grand out of my pocket. So I will have to grapple with accepting that, most of the time, these phone calls and texts are all I can offer. That this is the effect of choosing to live so far from home.
So I think I may have stumbled upon the first lesson Australia wishes to teach me in the upcoming years here: the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Let’s hope I’m serene enough to at least accept that.