Often, my mother greeted my complaints with the same lesson. She held out her left fist and pointed to it with her right. “This is what you control,” she said. She took her index finger and ran it around her fist, leaving a space, rather like a donut. “This is what you influence.” She spread her hands to the world. “All the rest is out of your control. Focus first on what you control. Focus next on what you influence. Put aside and forget the rest.” She repeated this lesson often to me as I was growing up. Sometimes, I actually follow it.
Like the time my husband died suddenly. Not in anyone’s control, not even his. Starting my grieving, I was “warned” by nurses and doctors that I’d probably feel angry and want to lash out, that I’d even spend time being angry at him for leaving. I did get angry once, at the post office, listening to the postman behind the grill get mad at his still-living wife for wanting to go out dancing for their anniversary when he wanted to watch a game on TV. “You’ve got a partner,” I yelled at him, pushing my husband’s death certificate through the grill. “Count yourself lucky.”
But that was more about his lack of appreciation at his partner (who hasn’t felt that way occasionally?), not mad because my husband died. I never got mad at him. No one controlled that. Nothing could be done about it. And I’d stood at an altar and verbally agreed to a contract that said “til death do you part.”
Lately, I’ve had to remind myself of my mother’s lesson more than once, but it’s been more about anxiety, although some anger’s mixed in. I’m furious at Putin, anxious about the nuclear plant that’s a disaster waiting to happen, and fearful for the world my grandson might inherit. “Okay,” I ask myself, “do I control that?” The obvious answer is no. “Do I influence that?” Sadly, not that either. My anxiety and anger and fear are pointless. “Stop,” I tell myself. Some days, that works better than others.
The environment’s another. I’m more angry than anxious about that issue, but definitely fearful, mostly for my grandson (I won’t be around for the worst of it). Do I control this? To some extent. Do I influence this? Possibly. I’m more careful about water use, waste, recycling, re-using, not acquiring the first place. Do I make a difference? Minimally, but at least I try. Influence? I can set an example, I can contribute to environmental causes, I can use conversational opportunities to put forward my beliefs and actions, I can guide my grandson when I see him. Again, minimal, but I try. Then I have to let the rest go. My anger is primarily focused in this country and aimed at people who know better, but still waste out of laziness and no effort to change.
Regrets? Oh yes. I think of my generation and how many of us either knew better or should have known better, but have carried on in ignorance or oblivion. Human beings wait until something’s right in our faces and we’re right on the edge to take action. Why do we do this? Something innate in our beings, I fear. Can I change that? Only in myself, however late in the game it may be. I just hope I’ve smartened up and taken my mother’s lesson to heart. If I can sort out what I control and influence, but don’t control, my actions will be more meaningful and make more of a difference.
I carry on.