I lost a spelling bee when I was twelve years old.
It’s one of those childhood disappointments I never quite got over. (Those who have an affinity for Freudian analysis may even be tempted to draw connections between that event and my present career…) In my judgment then (and my judgment now, if truth be told), I lost unfairly; the system was rigged, I was a victim of poor training and unfortunate circumstances, etc., etc. When time came for the awarding of prizes, I was called forth from the ranks of the losers, where I sat sullen and dejected, to claim my participation prize–a paper certificate with my name on it that said, basically, “Congratulations! You got up there and you really tried. ‘E’ for effort.” It was a BS token thought up by some soft parent who wanted all the kids to feel recognized, even if all the kids couldn’t win. I scowled at the woman handing the certificates out and snatched it from her hand and skulked back to my seat. It was a black, black day.
And then to finish off the horrible situation, my father gripped my arm as we were piling into the family van to return home and hissed in my ear, “Don’t you ever do that again.” I’ll admit, in my addled, embarrassed, heartbroken condition, I wondered if he meant I wasn’t ever to lose a spelling bee again. My parents weren’t “those sorts” of parents, so this alarmed me. Genuinely puzzled, I asked, “Do what?”
His answer became a life lesson: “I don’t care how angry you are, you keep your feelings to yourself and put on a smile. That was completely ungracious of you, and I’m ashamed.” Okay, that was a tough pill to swallow, and it took me…a really long time to appreciate the full value of what dad told me then. Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of your feelings, you control your reactions to things. Outside factors might make you angry, sad, even outright depressed, but at the end of the day only you can determine how you will behave in reaction to–or in spite of–those feelings.
So this weekend I thought about my reactions to things, especially recently; I thought about the way I’ve been letting circumstances get me down, and I realized my reaction has been all wrong. I’ve been falling back on self-pity and whiny prayers that begin and end with, “Please let my will be done. Amen.” I have a script written out in my head for my life. Okay, maybe not a full script, but at least the screenplay’s all there. As long as things go accordingly, I’m happy and content. But when life breaks off from that script, when things start going their own way, beyond my control, my expectations, and my stated desires–then I get really upset. Thrown off-balance. Oh yes, and scared.
But the only proper reaction (the only peaceful and ultimately joyful reaction) is acceptance…and gratitude. In all things give thanks.