I have a dear friend who recently lost a son to suicide, after having lost another son many years ago. In a beautiful letter to me, he wrote in part, “…a parent never fully recovers from the death of a child.” That has stimulated me to reflect on how difficult it is to let go and be with what is. Many years ago, Paul Tillich wrote a book entitled, The Courage To Be, which had important impacts in Christian theology. This book can be summarized with one word, acceptance—i.e., acceptance of what is so. It is so simple and yet so difficult.
Years ago I was in San Francisco for a meeting and parked my car in a building near the meeting place. Unexpectedly, the meeting did not end until after 1 AM, and when I went to the building to get my car, it was closed for the night. My only rational choice was to get a hotel room for the night, which I did. That wasn’t difficult to get a room, but it was so, so difficult to let go of getting “trapped” overnight. In my mind I kept going over what I should have done, how I should have seen that the garage closed at midnight, how I should have anticipated a late night conclusion to my meeting. From there I went into how stupid I was to be in this situation, and how unfair it was for the garage to close so early, and how my meeting shouldn’t have taken so long. My mind was so active and I was so upset that I couldn’t sleep in the perfectly adequate bed I had for the night. I was warm, safe, and had plenty of time the following morning to get where I needed to be. However, failure to accept what was so kept me from having a good night of rest.
Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever had a similar experience? I’ll bet you have, because in our western culture we are so convinced that we know how life should go and that we have the control to make it happen in that manner. But do we? I believe that the acceptance implied in The Courage To Be involves accepting the fact that nothing that is ultimately important is under our control. We didn’t control our birth, and we don’t control the aging process that leads eventually to death. I have faith that I am more than my physical body and have practices that I do to experience that part of me that doesn’t die. I find that standing in that faith and experience of being more than my physical body helps me accept this lack of control over my life. Moving from control to acceptance is a big step for those of the western culture, but I believe it is a necessary step. It is a process involving deep reflection. It is part of growing up.