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April 20, 2020

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Fostering Community

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.

The Serenity Prayer. I’ve been leaning on it a lot these days as I try my best to support our community in the here and now while preparing for the road ahead – a road that is rife with uncertainty and worry. I’m planning for what is probable but also for what is possible. I’m also staring down the humbling realization that the future I am planning for is filled with unknown unknowns – the things I don’t know I don’t know because they are beyond the realm of comprehension at this moment in history. In short, no one fully knows what lies ahead but plan for it we must.

I’ve long been familiar with the Serenity Prayer. It hung on the wall of my grandmother’s living room, a beautiful handmade cross-stitch work of art and quiet faith. I memorized it by rote as a young child and don’t know the day when its meaning came into focus, but at some point in my youth I recognized the power of its words. It now acts as one of the tenets of my belief system, helping me focus my energy where it is most needed and challenging me to let go of the notion that I can control all around me.

This week I shared the prayer with a student who is grappling with uncertainty and hardship that would be cruel and unfair at any time but exponentially more so in this time of crisis. We talked about how important it is to acknowledge our feelings – to own our anger, our disappointment, our frustration and fear. We talked about the need for self-compassion, for giving ourselves permission to be vulnerable and for letting the tears flow to release the pressure building within us. But then we moved on to thinking about the importance of expending our energy on the things within our control – how, after allowing ourselves a time to mourn the loss of a future that is no more, we must find a way first to cope with the day-to-day, then to move beyond coping to living well, and ultimately to thriving once again.

When I was undergoing treatment for cancer five years ago, I developed a mantra that I said quietly every morning in the shower as I braced for the day ahead. “Heal. Survive. Thrive.” It became my prayer and my plea. It was the promise I made to myself, the commitment made tacitly to my family and the thing I focused on when my optimism would falter. I have tried to remember those words as the years between me and that illness thankfully increase. I find myself saying them quietly whenever the pressures and demands of daily life threaten to overshadow the things that I know are truly important in life. These words have become my reset button – the simple thought that recalibrates my understanding of what holds true meaning and importance in my life.

“Accept the things I cannot change. Change the things I can. Know the difference. Heal. Survive. Thrive.” These are the words that keep me focused, energized, sane, optimistic and determined to embrace life despite the challenges around me. They are the words I apply not only to my personal life but to my work as a school leader. I encourage everyone in our community to think about their own personal mantra. What words might help sustain you now and in the weeks and perhaps months ahead? What thoughts will help you pull back from the precipice of worry? In spite of hardships and uncertainty, there remains beauty in our days, strategies to cope and reason to hope. And in the not-too-distant future, I know we will once more be able to thrive.

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