The Wisdom to Tell the Difference

Danny Thomas

By Danny Thomas

seaside 2009 084

I sat in the nursery
holding the baby
for what felt like
the fifteenth hour in a row
it was the morning nap…
but I had spent all night in the
and shushing
and holding
and her poor, sore, teething mouth…

getting her down
for the morning nap
had been a relatively painless endeavor
probably due to
the restless
night’s sleep.

but I was still feeling peevish
and my body was awkwardly cocked
in some rutty position
for fear of waking

it was late morning
and I was watching the sunlight travel across the walls
in my distracted slumbering state…
and I noticed that
when we rearranged the room,
moving the crib and dresser
so that the heater
could actually heat the room,
we left the pictures
as they were…

it looked off.

just a little odd,
out of balance…
and I thought
well we need to change that.
fix it…

and that led to a whole
storm of thoughts
about change…

about how our instinct
or our reflex, rather…
is to look at things
and think about how they
should be
rather than to
see them
how they are
and accept it.

my life should be like this.
my house should be like that.
my job should be like so.
those people should be this way.
these people should be that way.
this table should not be swathed in sticky.
there should be a flat surface in my house not covered with stuff.

and this is the
default we seem to have as a culture,
that I seem to have
as an individual…

especially when things are

that if we change it
fix it
tweak it
in just the right way
it will be better
and it
won’t be
hard anymore.

we believe
we will
never be uncomfortable again…
we believe
the mess
will go away.

the vacuum
and the oven will clean themselves
the piles of papers
accumulated from school bags
and the mailbox
will be neatly tucked away
and our
living room
and dining room
and bedrooms
will look like
pages from architectural digest
or better homes and gardens.

if I can just pin
the perfect solution
just one more idea
it will all fall into place.

if we can just make a little more money
if we just had a few more square feet
if I just had a little more time
maybe if we try the couch over here…

if I change to this other laundry soap
this other anti-depressant
maybe if I change my lifestyle
give up that vice
just change my diet
if I change how I sleep
I’ll feel so much better.

there are books and blogs
and pin after pin after pin…
there are gurus and psychics
doctors and financial planners…

self-helpers of every stripe
many with the best intentions…
some a little more dubious
helping people change.
make that little change…

we are bent on changing things.
fixing things.

and I am far from an expert
but I am starting to think
that there is no special formula
no guide to life
no pill, product, or prophet
that is going to make this mess go away
that is going to relieve the moments of frustration…
discomfort pervades.

any formula
any chart
or graph
or plan
with six easy steps or less
determining your goal
and routing a plan
step by step
through life
to achieve that goal
while noble
and necessary
is also treacherous
and at least partially misguided
and here is why…

the tides…
there is this feeling that to navigate life
what you need is something like a tidal calendar…

but if life is like the tides…
if we are in a life that flows like the tide…
we are, if we are lucky, a stone, but more likely, a grain of sand
getting tossed in the chaos of each wave

more like a grain of sand, anyway, than a fisherman or sailor.

I’m hoping that I have enough of an idea of who I am
in my little grain-of-sand-y soul
to float through those entropic waves
and try to find the patterns
or at the very least some of the joy
without losing myself.

in the last three weeks
I have sold a house that is 1500 miles away
turned forty
been hired to begin a full-time, stay-at-home, telecommuter job
given notice at my current job
learned that my wife has secured a tenure-eligible position at the college…

maybe you can see why I feel
like a stone
getting tossed around…

some things must change
and we must change some things
but …
I think maybe…
some things are going to happen
no matter what we do

I guess Reinhold Niebuhr put it best
in The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference…

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