My brother Danny and I were chatting about abandonment over the weekend. Yup! We were! And wasn’t that fun! No, we weren’t discussing the trauma of being dumped in a back alley with greasy hair and a torn Whitesnake t-shirt with nothing to eat but stale Ritz; I’m happy to say that kind of abandonment hasn’t happened to either of us. Phew. That’s a relief. No, we were gabbing about how little control we have over anything that happens to us on This Spinning Ball of Mud and Wal-Marts where, for just wee bit, we seem to reside. What little authority we have over big things, little things, in-betweeny things. Try as we might to understand and affect the arcs of these things, the universe and all its merry occupants are mostly beyond our ken and jurisdiction.
Danny remarked that everyone wants to control the world, but the idea that anyone can is “delusional.” He finds more inner peace, he said, with accepting people as they are than trying to sway them. And trust me, my brother is one persuasive fellow (said she, recalling her near-butt experience on a psycho-twisted icy black diamond that she skied at his suggestion). He’s persuasive even on the subject of not trying to persuade.
So, what choice did I have, I agreed with him. But I would have anyway. Because really, what influence do I have over any of the fundamental interactions that rule the cosmos? Weak force? Nuclear? Gravity? Electromagnetism? That’d be awesome to control! If I could control that, I could wrap myself and everyone I love in protective force fields like the ones they had on “Star Trek.” Then all that bad shit would bounce off their personal deflector-bubbles and splat into the Romulans instead.
The “Star Trek” analogy hit me, as “Star Trek” often analogies do, after eight seconds of deliberation. After another eight seconds of deliberation, which I performed just so I can appear to be a deeply reflective person chewing on a giant garlicky pickle, I concluded that there are, in fact, a grand total of four things over which I have control:
3) How I respond to everything that happens to me; and
Sometimes Numbers 1, 2 and 4 involve the stuff of sweetness and light. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes they involve the stinky and the dark. Jobs being scored, babies being born: Good stuff. Layoffs and deaths: Crap stuff. Danny’s right; we can’t control any of the people, forces and things inside our worlds.
But no matter what the sweetness-to-stink quotient of such nothings and everythings, Number 3 is vitally important in the aftermath. If hunger happens to me, I respond to it by putting wasabi peas into my mouth (or not). If love happens to me, I respond to it by giving my whole heart back (or not). If injustice happens to me or someone else, I respond to it by speaking truth to power (or not).
The tricky part lies in its figuring-out, in the mystifying calculus occasioned by all that happens to us. That’s where the posture of abandonment makes the least sense and yet requires the most of us — because, and this is the part I can’t stand, we must abandon ourselves to the powerful likelihood that we’ll make the wrong decision. We could screw up. We could put the wrong things in our mouths; love the wrong person or not love the right one enough; say the wrong thing or go mute at the wrong time.
I don’t know about any of you, but this scares the shit out of me: I hate making asinine and off-the-mark decisions. I hate making a boob out of myself, whether my boobishness is minor or monumental. And yet the universe is pretty darned insistent that I take that chance on a regular basis, or what’s the point? Are we just going to flop over in the face of Numbers 1, 2 and 4? Do nothing? Lie prostrate, planking ourselves before the gathered cosmic forces of all that we can’t control?
The toughest and most important form of abandonment to master is that one that says: I could be an ass. I probably AM an ass. I might do the wrong thing. I might make the wrong choice. And then, what the hell, I make it anyway.