From the Introduction
I’ve been told that in olden days, fishermen off the west coast of Ireland never learned to swim, believing that if the God of the Sea wanted to take them there was nothing they could do about it. If a man fell into the temperamental Atlantic, his companions made no attempt to save him. Although this is said to be an ancient belief, I see traces of it in my Irish ancestors who were stoic and practical about death, designing patterned wool sweaters so families could identify lost fishermen when the ocean spit them back unrecognizable. Perhaps it was the centuries of colonialism that made them fatalistic, or the shifty weather, or the particular flavor of religion. My mother often repeated the message given to her in school by a strict nun with a thick brogue: “You were put on this earth to suffer for the glory of Christ, and the sooner you get used to it the better off you’ll be.” My mother laughed at the nun’s message, but I rebelled against it. If I fell off a boat at sea, you can bet I’d swim.
I am American much more than I am Irish, and a daughter of the women’s movement rather than colonialism. When I went to Catholic school in the late sixties and early seventies, I had idealistic young nuns who taught me to play the guitar and told me I could be anything. My private high school and prestigious college reinforced this message so I came to expect success, not suffering. When I experienced my first professional failure at twenty-nine, it was a devastating shock, but one that spurred my spiritual growth. It’s been part of my faith journey to learn the spirituality of acceptance, realizing that there are times when letting go and trusting are the best I can do. This does not mean adopting the passivity of the Irish fishermen, surrendering my destiny to fate. It simply means recognizing that while I can chart my own course in life, I don’t control the sea around my little boat. I can’t guarantee that I won’t ever get knocked into the waves, though I can learn to swim in case I do. I’ve found that recognizing both my power and my powerlessness is useful when facing life’s storms.
My recognition of this paradox began when I became pregnant with my first child. I realized I could not prevent my water from breaking in the supermarket or guarantee that my favorite doctor would be on call when I went into labor. More sobering was the realization that I couldn’t guarantee my baby’s health, no matter how many prenatal vitamins I took. At the same time, my attitude and my choices did matter, so I tried to do all the right things. I drank milk instead of coffee and juice instead of wine…
- An excerpt from the Conclusion can be read on Therese Brochard’s blog Beyond Blue.
- You can read more in The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change–and When to Let Go.
These excerpts used with permission of the author and the publisher.