That’s from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I often used to think about it when it seemed I didn’t have any options. There’d be plenty of everything around and it looked right for me, but it wasn’t. People often quoted the serenity prayer at me: God grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference. Something like that.
I see the wisdom of it, depending on what you mean by “the things I can’t change”. Because what if there are things you can change, but you don’t realize it, so you accept them? That doesn’t make for serenity, it makes for frustration and bitterness. Especially when it comes to hindsight and the irrevocable passage of time. Damn. If only I’d opened up my mind a bit more.
I grew up in a culture where the reigning idea was that there isn’t much you can do to change anything. It totally drives me crazy. There’s a kind of unwillingness to even try to imagine solutions. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s a reluctance to embrace the idea that what I know might not be all there is to know.
I was pretty young when that hit me like a heat-guided missile. BAM! I thought it was very odd that there could be these two parts to us. One which believed something was the absolute truth, and another part which could see that maybe we were wrong. Some people actually don’t operate that way, though. They believe they’re right and anybody who disagrees with them is fundamentally wrong. Maybe they can’t get their head around the concept of subjectivity, can’t step outside of themselves.
It must make life awfully simple for them, although it makes it a nightmare for everybody else. I’ve often wished I had a simpler brain which only saw one way. Mine is very irritating. It’s constantly saying to me “yeah, but how do you know that’s all there is to this?” Mind you, it’s a good thing, given how wretchedly disempowered I’ve been all my life. Imagine if I’d just accepted it? Gaaaahh.
So now here I am at age – ahem, somewhere between 40 and death (there’s a limit to the importance of absolute truth) – where my refusal to accept is beginning to pay off. I’m getting to a point where I feel quite empowered within myself. More focused than I’ve ever been, more clear about how I want to go about things. More practical about how I actually spend my time. Not scared of people or the world. Much better at boundaries and of course, relationships.
I used to often feel that I was stuck on a raft in the middle of an unfriendly ocean in blazing heat, alone and dying of thirst, surrounded by water that was undrinkable. Not any more. I still think of that serenity prayer, and I know it has a lot of wisdom, but mine is slightly different.
God grant me the courage to listen to what I need, to process my emotions and let my heart have a voice. Grant me the imagination to see beyond the ideas that limit me and tell me I don’t have a gazillion options. Grant me the focus to know which ones I want, and the courage to reach out for what I need so that they can become a reality for me.
BTW, thanks for the persistence and the help which has allowed me, and still does, to never accept what I don’t have to.