“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference…”
Last summer my family and some friends headed to Phoenix, Arizona—and I know what you’re thinking—“They’re crazy to go to 115 degree heat in Phoenix in the summer. What idiots!” Usually I’d agree with you; however, we went to Phoenix a few summers ago and fell in love with its heat over the oppressive St. Louis humidity. We rented a big house (almost a compound), with its own pool, pool table, yard games, and even a pitch and putt. We spent 10 days enjoying ourselves and we left as the monsoon season started. The night before we left, I watched the storm roll in.
Alone, I sat by the pool after dinner. At first, I could see the mountains in the distance; within a few minutes the mountains had disappeared into the haze of the oncoming rain. That wall of rain hypnotized me. As I sat there I mediated on the Serenity Prayer. I don’t know why, it just popped into my head like a strike of lightening.
Maybe it was the inevitable storm that would pound gallons of water on me in a matter of minutes if I didn’t move my chair, but it occurred to me for the first time that I understood the prayer.
Minute by minute, things changed with that weather pattern, so much so that there was electricity in the air—and I don’t mean a feeling of electricity, my arm hair stood on end! I have never felt the sense of hopelessness in the face of nature that I felt that day. I was an insignificant speck forced to experience the power of planet Earth; and yet, I quietly sat and watched. I fixated on this amazing act of nature.
The birds all quieted down as they flew from safe haven to safe haven. The insects disappeared, and all the lizards darted for cover.
Here, humbly, sat humanity.
I felt like a cave dweller staring into the forthcoming onslaught of a war between the ancient gods. The leviathan became real, and I knew what all those epic storytellers felt when they described the heroes fighting the monsters of myth. I felt heroic sitting there in the face of the oncoming monsoon, knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it, defeat it, or escape it except to cower in my hovel and pray that it would pass by without damage, danger, or death. But I stayed.
The palm trees did not sway, they bent. I watched the trees bend horizontally to the ground and remembered a passage from Sophocles’ play Antigone. In Episode III, Haemon says to his father, Creon, “The strongest tree breaks in the storm while the one who can bend with the tempest last the longest.”
These trees wanted to survive, so they grew to survive the storm. They bent with the wind but had strong enough roots so that they would not give up their ground.
I could taste the electricity, that burnt ozone flavor of nature remaking itself. I had no will. I felt helpless like an abandoned chick in a nest, safe but on the verge of uncomprehending annihilation. I know people overuse the term “awesome,” but when I watched that monsoon step over the mountains and block out the sky, I knew what “awesome” truly meant. I was awestruck.
I wanted my family around me. I wanted them to experience what I was experiencing, but I didn’t call them. Transfixed, I sat and stared and felt.
I felt strange emotions of fear and love and excitement. I couldn’t predict the future, I couldn’t stop the torrent, and I knew infinite insignificance.
With a shattering crack of lighting and the stomach pounding of thunder, the tempest erupted from the sky, while I sat back under my roof and safely watched the world rage. The weather earnestly began that day and didn’t end until a week later.
So, I contemplated the meaning of what I just witnessed. Serenity comes from courage and wisdom. Courage to change that which is detrimental to me and others and deserves change. Wisdom comes from that change, wisdom to act correctly or differently. And when I change my behaviors, I finally open myself to serenity.
Or maybe I was just scared of a thunderstorm and decided to say a little prayer.