Bucking against serenity

My Mom displayed a copy of the Serenity Prayer prominently in our home. A Reader’s Digest Condensed Book turned religious knickknack, the volume had been glued open, sprayed gold and hodged-podged with fancy text of the prayer and related graphics.

The book was partnered with a gold stand, and I remember the duo gracing several surfaces — a dresser top, a bookcase and the console television. I’m not sure how my Mom came to own it or what, if any, sentimental value she attached it. The latter is probably a good thing. Although the book is now tucked away somewhere in my house, I’d be hard-pressed to find it.

Still, the 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” — summarizes much of my parents’ pragmatic philosophy on life. If there was nothing you could do, you still had to make do. Personal responsibility. Tolerance. Resilience. Acceptance. Grit.

Those were the values they passed along; values that have been top-of-mind this week.

For months my local auto mechanic has cautioned me about problems with my vehicle. Since these are relatively expensive problems, I’ve been putting off repair while stockpiling pennies. This week, under dire warnings of my impending fiery roadside dismemberment or death, I took action, paying outright for what I could and charging the remainder. Even I had to admit that possible death outweighed my quest to live debt-free. (Sorry, Dave Ramsey.)

I was feeling none-too-happy about the predicament, when I arrived to pick up my vehicle. Then I got behind the wheel and it was immediately apparent that life was better.

Most vehicle maintenance is on par with oven cleaning. That is, you might have the satisfaction of knowing you did a good thing and those around you may experience some vague aura of goodness, but it otherwise goes unnoticed. This was different. This was like driving a new car.

Serenity Prayer column - A frog peers out of a water hazard at Pleasant Valley golf course in Iowa City on Tuesday, September 9, 2014.
A frog peers out of a water hazard at Pleasant Valley golf course in Iowa City on Tuesday, September 9, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Gradually, I’d allowed things to degrade, had normalized and dismissed problems even as prevalence increased. I’d been the proverbial frog in the pot of heating water, blissfully unaware of how bad the situation had become.

I took this newfound perspective on a mental road trip: Were there more things I’d accepted because I’d not had the courage to change them, or because I’d not been wise enough to know I could or should?

I discovered lots of minor annoyances — the small appliance that must be used “just so” or the knob that turns in only one direction, for instance. But my misapplication of the Serenity Prayer and my parents’ values hasn’t been limited to mechanical complacency.

Each political outrage — dismissive or disparaging remarks on women and minorities, acts of physical violence, verbal threats, ignorant tweets, etc. — has slowly normalized such filth as acceptable public discourse.

I can no longer be content to bump along this road at 70 mph, having difficulty steering, while assuring myself everything is OK, or at least no worse than it was before. Fixing the problem may be painful, but I do have the courage and wisdom to affect change.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 15, 2017. Photo credit: Adam Wesley/The Gazette