I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to control everything. I had completely unreasonable expectations of myself (both personally and professionally) and though I hate to admit it, I expected a lot from others as well. It's not that I saw myself as all powerful or even tremendously influential but the compulsion to control doesn't often come from a rational place. It often comes from a place of fear. I worked so hard to do everything "right" and I expected everyone and everything to fit into tidy little packages because uncertainty can be frightening.
It wasn't until I had kids that I realized how little control I had over most things in life. I learned that lesson most concretely when the kids were small and got sick. As a new mother, every illness sent me into blind panic. I wanted to take them to the doctor and have the doctor fix everything - make the fevers or vomiting or strange rashes or pain go away immediately. But they couldn't do that and many times, they could do nothing at all. It terrified me.
I still remember the moment when things began to shift for me. We were at the cabin with our friends and Zeca was around five months old and she started throwing up. I felt the old familiar panic grab me but we cleaned her up and I held her close to me and stepped out onto the deck and swayed back and forth while staring at the lake. The water. The light breeze. My baby snuggled into my chest. My chin on top of her fuzzy little head. Somehow, those things were enough and I realized that the only way through my fear was to control what I could control. I could take care of my baby. I could hold her. I could comfort her. I could love her. The rest was beyond my control. Ever since then, when the kids are hurting physically or emotionally, I take a deep breath and remember to focus on the things I can control.
In recent weeks, I have become consumed with fear over the outcome of this election and all that awaits us after, regardless of who is elected. I have obsessively checked polls and read every article there is to read and have discussed every issue at length with friends, in person and via text and social media. I recognize this feeling of panic that is rooted in fear and it has, at times, led me to think in ways that are not in line with my values. I have felt those old desires to control everything, to control how people vote, to feel anger when people don't respond they way I want them to. There are legitimate reasons to be afraid and to be angry but I also have to remind myself that I have little control over what happens. I have to remind myself to control what I can.
I can give my time. On Monday, I spent the afternoon in a busy office in South Minneapolis doing data entry for Hillary's campaign. There were several of us - all women - typing away, entering information obtained from volunteers who had been out door knocking (Luisa has been part of that group). The women were all older than me (not such an easy thing these days) and it lifted my spirits to be in their company.
I can show kindness to others. I can open doors, let people merge in traffic, make small talk with strangers, and pick up someone's dropped keys. I can give handfuls of candy to trick or treaters, greet my neighbors, and pick up trash on the street. I can give each and every person the benefit of the doubt when they are short with me or bump into me. I can assume the best, rather than the worst.
I can love the people in my life. We can take care of each other. We can hold each other. We can comfort each other. We can love each other.
These are things I can control and, just as I did all those years ago on the deck of that cabin in the Wisconsin woods, I have to accept that my actions will not rid me of fear but they will help me live with it and see me through to the other side.