Some things we have no control over. We don’t get to choose the circumstances we’re born into, the parents we’re given, or how we’re raised. We don’t get to decide how our brains respond to how we are treated when we are very young. We don’t get to pick our genes, or how they present themselves. Would I have rather gotten this trait from my mother, and that from my father? Who knows how that might have turned out.
The truth is that we don’t get to choose – but we are not doomed to unchangeable fates of “leftovers” passed down to us through genes or upbringing. We do have a choice. When it comes to how we interact with the world, how we treat people, even how we see ourselves, we have that choice.
Life is all about choices. We become that which we choose to amplify in ourselves. If we choose to focus on the bad that has been done to us, we become an angry shell of the person we were meant to be. There is no room for growth, for strength-building, if, after every success, every failure, we constantly return to, “Yes, but THIS happened to me.” We become the victim in a story with no happy ending, because we refuse to believe in the happy ending. If we see our happy ending on the horizon, we often re-write it in fear that it will never really turn out.
This is not to say that tragedy doesn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that your personal tragedy, your story, does not have meaning and even a profound effect on your life. Absolutely, it affects you. It is the water added to the clay that shapes who you are. Like water, tragedy is a powerful force. It can push, and pull, and erode. It can even wash clay, your Self, completely away if you let it.
Here’s a little secret, though: You are in control of the water. No, you can’t control the tragedies in your life. If we could, tragedies would never happen. But you can direct the way you let them shape you.
You see, water is a tool that every potter needs. It is used to soften, to smooth away rough spots, to wash away debris. Amazingly, the same water that can destroy can be used to make a clay pot stronger. It can be used to make pieces stick together, to form a bond between two parts that the potter wants to use. It all depends on how the potter handles the water.
The same is true for us. We may need help – support from family or friends, perhaps counseling or substance abuse treatment, possibly even rescue to get us out of a dangerous life into a safe place. Our choice at a particular moment may simply be to not let go of the very core of who we are, not to let those who may hold our lives in their hands take away the last bit of hope tucked deep inside. But it is a choice.
We are given no choice about some things. However, even with those things, we can choose our reaction. We can choose whether or not to let others’ treatment of us define who we are. We can decide, right now, if we are going to let our circumstances make us an angry, reactive person, or a better, kinder person – and then we can dedicate ourselves to the struggle of making that happen. It is a struggle, but not nearly as tough as trying to take on the whole world. We are only taking on ourselves. We are choosing to soften that which is hard, to smooth that which is sharp, and to put away our habitual, often counter-productive reactions. We are not giving up our defenses entirely – there are still those who mean to do us harm or take advantage of us in the world. But we are choosing to emphasize, to amplify, those things that are the best of who we are. We are taking the power away from those who have hurt us, and instead using it to become who we choose to be. We are guiding the water, controlling what it washes away, and shaping what it leaves behind into something strong and beautiful.
We are a work of art in the making.