Friday, June 25, 2010

Serenity. Friday, June 25, 2010.

“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” – As attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr

A few years ago, for my birthday, my son gave me a special stone to put in our garden. It says, “Serenity.” The dictionary defines “serenity” as “the absence of mental stress or anxiety.” Interestingly, when I was hospitalized for depression the first time, many years before my son existed, I shared a room with a 16-year-old girl whose parents had named her “Serenity.” She went by “Reni” for short. She’d been there for two months when I got there.

I thought it was a beautiful name, and Reni was a beautiful girl. The problem was that hospital staff had to watch her 24 hours a day, to make sure she didn’t cut herself or purge what little food she was taking in. When Reni took off her clothes to put on her nightgown, her emaciated body looked just like the bodies I’ve seen of concentration camp victims. She had starved herself, literally, almost to death. She had scars from cutting all over her body. Her wall was adorned with photos and cards from her many friends at school, where she’d been an honor student and a cheerleader. But clearly, Reni was facing demons.

I remember thinking how her parents must have wanted her to have a peaceful life, to name her Serenity – and yet she was treating herself brutally. I have no idea what had happened in her past to cause her to be so self-punitive, but 16 years before, her arrival had been celebrated with the giving of a name associated with peace and happiness. Ironic, don’t you think?

I’m going to give her parents a pass. I don’t know if they were horrible parents, but somehow I doubt it; I think her trauma came from elsewhere. I’m going to assume they were the best parents they could be, that they showed her love, that they gave her the material things she needed. And still, something happened to Serenity somewhere along the line that caused her to choose a life of pain and self-punishment. And her negative choices were outside of her parents’ control.

“To accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed” is an extraordinarily difficult thing for me to do. I constantly worry, fret, and get angry about things I can do nothing about. In fact this trait lies at the base of all my anxiety and my depression. I want so badly for things to be different; I get anxious about the future; I have strong emotions about things that are far outside my locus of control. Sometimes I want people to act differently, to make different choices, to do what I want – but I can’t make it happen.

Serenity seems so far away. How I envy those people who have been able to capture it.

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