Circumstances are events, facts, or conditions that happen, not on their own but due to causes that may or may not be easily identifiable. Many events, such as natural disasters, have intrinsic power that can seriously damage the earth and its inhabitants. There are also circumstances that. in and of themselves, do not have power over us unless we grant it.
As I review my own past circumstances, this distinction dramatically come alive. Here is a short history of some of the circumstances that stick out in my memory.
- My parents were immigrants who left Slovakia for Canada when they were barely twenty years old. They spoke no English and had very little. As a result they and I were poor.
- They worked very hard, valued education and insisted that their three sons did the same.
- I have bad eyesight in my right eye. It was not detected until I was in grade 8. It was too late to correct.
- My bottom teeth are crooked. I don’t know if there were orthodontists when I was young, but even if there were I know my parents could not afford one.
- My four children have gorgeous straight teeth and our orthodontist lives in a mansion.
- When I was twelve, my father died leaving us with very little. My mother rented rooms in our house to generate income.
- I suspect that friends of my mother helped out financially when things got real tough.
- I am especially indebted to a baseball coach who found me a great job when I was fourteen.
- I was the only one who the family could finally afford to send to University.
- As a teenager I was obsessed with baseball and dreamed of going to a Major League tryout camps. My poor eyesight and a .167 batting average killed that dream.
- Early one dark and rainy morning, I was driving, perhaps too fast, to coach a basketball practice. I had an accident that could have killed me. Because of a few inches, I was able to walk away, shocked, but with minor facial cuts. My car was a write-off and the basketball practice was canceled.
- On my wedding day, 45 years ago, I weighed 167 pounds and was in great shape. I had an exciting, but stressful, career. My weight climbed to a high of 215 in the late 1970’s, but usually hovered around 200 pounds.
- Over the past five years I have changed my eating habits because I want to dance at my granddaughter’s wedding. She is eight years old and I don’t expect her to marry early! I now weigh 157 pounds.
I was lucky. I had no control over some of the crucial circumstances but I haven’t yet had to face a natural disaster like an earthquake, hurricane, fire, or flood. Other circumstances definitely came about because of choices I made. I don’t know when or where I first became aware of it, but the “Serenity Prayer” helped me to keep the right perspective at the most difficult times.
by Reinhold Niebuhr
God, grant us the…
Serenity to accept things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the things that take time
Appreciation for all that we have, and
Tolerance for those with different struggles
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our past ways, the
Ability to feel your love for us and our love for each other and the
Strength to get up and try again even when we feel it is hopeless.
Sometimes I have to adapt this beautiful prayer. Under dire circumstances I think and feel that I should lower expectations and replace the word “change” with “control” or “influence”.
I have learned that how I react is what matters most. The next blog will discuss the many reactions that are possible.