To Know the Difference

Here’s a little secret: I’m a control freak. Yes, the lady that runs a blog daily is a control freak. Imagine that! And if you’re a control freak, you’ll know how hard it is to rein in the crazy. Which is why I take a lot of comfort from the following quote from Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

 Because even though this little mantra has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, I think it still rings true for everyone. A huge part of life is knowing when you need to give a little more and when you have done all you can.

My problem? It’s with that little, last line. “And the wisdom to know the difference.” Because how do you know? How do I know that it wasn’t me, or that it wasn’t meant to be? What if I deserve the blame but refuse to put it on myself? What if I did what I could but it wasn’t one of those things I could change? What if it was and I didn’t try hard enough?

I mean, think about it. When you took a test in school and you studied your butt off, but you still didn’t get a good grade, what did you tell yourself? Did you get angry and ask why you didn’t study more? Or did you say that there was no way that you could have studied for that test because it was hard? The age-old debate reformed: Was it nature or nurture?

And in reality, it was probably a combination of the two. But if you are anything like me, you are going to spend the next twenty years thinking that it was you…or that it was the test…or perhaps it was you…

So, that quote is really understated. You better pray for that wisdom to know the difference. Forget the courage or the serenity. You are going to need all of the intelligence you can get. Because that’s what is going to help you sleep at night.

But I guess in the end you simply have to do the absolute best that you can and then when you have wrung every drop from yourself and you still didn’t get what you want or it still didn’t work out, then you can ask the universe why it insists on being ridiculous.

And if that doesn’t work, you can do what I do: worry your life away about things you can’t change while being too paralyzed to do anything about the things you can. In reality, if you live this way for long enough, you really won’t know the difference.

Help Me, I Know Things

I have a full-time job, two Bachelor’s degrees, and a night-light.

The latter is one of those big paper stars that houses a lightbulb and hangs from the ceiling. (The degrees are also made of paper.) I call it “Polaris,” and I only turn it on when I’m truly scared. Not when I see a spider in the corner of the room, not when I have recently watched Paranormal Activity, and not after I read the economy report (usually).

Proudly, Polaris protects me. Her soft glow floods the room, but it is just low enough that I can happily sleep without feeling like I have a spotlight from a lighthouse shining at me from the sea of my sheets. Sadly, though, Polaris is only a physical comfort. I have yet to discover a mental remedy for being afraid of things in my mind. And yet this is why I turn Polaris on.

And, of course, that’s the thing about what goes inside our mind, about knowledge itself. There’s plenty of fun facts out there: Baby jellyfish are called ephyra, for instance. These tidbits can fetch you a moment of amusement. But what about when you come across some particularly difficult information to digest or reconcile? When you finally come to terms with your own mortality or when you actually realize that humans aren’t at the top of the food chain?

I’m sorry for the less than cheery blog post, but I have to ask: why doesn’t knowledge come with a warning label? I mean, we actively seek it, and yet we don’t ask what we’re looking for. We don’t stop to ask for directions. We just keep going, picking things up along the way, unsure when or if we will need them. We’re kinda like Frodo Baggins in his quest to destroy the Ring. He doesn’t ask anyone if he’s headed in the right direction. He kinda just points with his hobbity finger towards the horizon, and he goes.

So, we can’t unknow things or unlearn things. There is no “great Ring to rule them all” that we can destroy and forget every hard fact we’ve encountered in our lives. But maybe that’s the point. It isn’t about what we know or understand. It’s more about how we come to fully process things, how we interact with things. I bet you can recall the first time you realized that you would die one day. I bet you can remember the moment when you knew that every person on this earth is living their own life, uniquely separate and independent of your own. I bet you can pinpoint the time when you figured out that you weren’t the center of everyone’s universe (or maybe you’re still trying to figure that out.) 

And realizing all of that, have you ever looked at life in the same way?

And that’s the point of knowledge. It’s supposed to stretch and challenge your perspective, not just scare you or cause you to hold on tighter to what you know. And importantly, if you take nothing away from this blog except the fact that I am a college graduate with a night-light, take away this: When you learn something, let it go. It has already changed the dimensions of your mind, so you don’t need to hang on to it. As long as you have a light that you are moving towards, (not into, just towards) like my Polaris, you can rest assured that knowledge will guide you safely home.