One day when my oldest son Jeffery was 7 or 8 years old, he was uncharacteristically irritable and cranky. I asked him what was wrong. He said to me, “Changes, changes. There are too many changes, Mom. I can’t stand it!”
“You painted the front door red and bought me new pyjamas!” he told me when I asked what changes he was referring to.
At the time I didn’t take his complaint seriously. As I look back now I suspect he was feeling like his life was slipping away from him and he felt powerless to do anything about it. All of the grown-ups in his life were making decisions for him and not consulting him. It had far less to do with front doors, the colour red, or night wear. At 7, those were the things he could see and name. I think he was really referring to whatever his young psyche was picking up about what was going on in the household and he didn’t know how to put words to those feelings.
Jeff had less access to what was going on inside his heart and mind, thus he felt forced to find something external to complain about. As we grown- ups definitely have a tendency to do far too often, he felt like something was going on in his life that was out of his control. In his eyes, I had taken over and left him powerless. It is easy to forget how wise and sensitive children are and how helpless they are to do much other than fuss, have a tantrum or fight back when life feels out of their control.
Often enough adults feel life is out of their control as well. In fact, maybe it is an illusion or possibly foolish thinking, maybe even childish thinking, to ever believe we have control over the way life unfolds. I find it interesting to contemplate what I have control over in my life and what I am responsible for; and contrast that with what I do not believe I asked for and certainly know I did not intentionally call into my life. Did I not take good care of myself, was I thoughtless or foolish, thus caught a cold, got the flu, broke my leg, became depressed, had an argument with the neighbours, lost money, had an accident, contributed to the waiter giving us bad service?
Does my argumentative, untrusting, or fearful being have anything to do with not having certain friends or not being promoted or my feeling helpless or powerless? Or is that all happening above and beyond me and not about me at all? Am I being self-aggrandizing to believe I can keep my children and myself safe? Is life as it unfolds, about me? Or is it about something way bigger than I am?
Currently I answer those questions for myself by saying I need to have balance. I am responsible for my behaviour and my responses to change, challenge, difference, uncertainty. As well, life happens. I didn’t ask for the roof to need replacing or the basement to flood or my son’s marriage to shatter. And I must accept the part I play in my life as it marches along to a tune I have made up in my own mind.
Not long ago my Persian friend Hamid returned to Iran to visit his sick mother. His wife begged him not to go. She was afraid for him. While in Iran he was arrested. His Canadian and Iranian passports, his credit cards, all of his cash and his plane ticket home were taken from him. What is his responsibility in all of this happening? Or does he not have any responsibility in what the Iranian government chose to do to him? Short of not seeing his mother, was there anything he could have done differently and thus created a different outcome?
This is where I ask myself ultimately how much control do we really have over our lives? How do we learn to make peace with some of the terrible things we are faced with and expected to know how to endure? Jeffery’s challenge at 7 was certainly minimal in comparison with Hamid’s traumatic situation. But already, Jeffery was learning that others had significant power over him and he did not trust he would always be equipped to handle what might at times be expected of him. Hamid had the right to see his mother. Was he being foolish or careless to leave the safety of Canada and return to his homeland and his family? Did he go thinking he had more power than he actually had?
How do we keep ourselves safe? How does a child know he will not be harmed by people who make changes he didn’t ask for or know about? How does Hamid respect himself as a loving son and take heed of those who have power over him?
There are many questions we must ask ourselves and there are many possible answers to each question. Bottom line I believe what I would like to have told Jeffery is what I heard from Hamid when he finally was released from prison 5 ½ years later. In essence what he said was that he knew his only real power was within his own mind and heart. He refused to be bitter or retaliate. He did not argue or struggle against. He stayed focused and steady and trusted his own integrity. He told me he hoped to write a book about his experience and expose the corruption he witnessed. He wants to translate it into Persian and personally deliver it to a particular judge he knows realizes the injustice that was done to him.
I see Hamid as taking responsibility for his actions, finding peace within himself, and being proactive in a non-combative way following his release. Learning from Hamid, I would want to have been able to assure my young son that with time, experience, faith, and kindness, he could create for himself a life in which he experiences his inner strength and wisdom. What is true of him today is that he is an exceedingly bright man and a man of great spiritual faith. And I suspect sometimes things as trivial as red front doors and new pyjamas still cause him to be concerned!