Thoughts on control

I spent much of yesterday finding, scanning, and shrinking old family photos in preparation for my father-in-law's upcoming 90th birthday celebration.  Since those photos are foremost in my mind at the moment, I thought I'd share this one: though you can't see my face, I'm the one in the hat, and this is one of our wedding pictures. 

That's the groom's brother paddling up front, looking a little anxious; my husband is in black with me behind him and my father behind me, and my husband's oldest brother's in the stern.  Also in the canoe were his dad and mom, my mom, and his sister-in-law and their baby, Sarah... and the minister who performed the ceremony, which took place -- yes, in the canoe -- in a little cove on the Connecticut River, just a wee bit south of Hanover, NH.

One of the many fun things about getting married in a canoe is that you can't always control how it plays out (not that you can control how ANY wedding ceremony plays out: despite the most earnest efforts of wedding planners, I suspect there are always surprises.)  Our surprises were mostly good: there were three attendant canoes, each with two paddlers and a photographer (that was a surprise, we didn't actually hire a photographer).  There was a family of ducks that went sailing by at one point (so cute!). 

It was way hotter than we had anticipated (high 90's), so hot my mom couldn't wear the dress she'd bought for the occasion, so she spent most of the day hiding from the photographers.  My husband dropped a canoe on his toe putting it into the water and had to wear flip-flops for the occasion. (Begin as you mean to continue, I always say -- he still pretty much lives in flip-flops, even in winter!)

We each chose readings for the day; my husband chose a scene from the play "Our Town" in which the stage manager talks about weddings.  When he handed the printout to his best man (who was in one of the attendant canoes), the guy just tucked it in his pocket, and when the time came for him to read it aloud he recited it from memory; turned out he'd played the role in high school!  I think that was probably the best surprise of the day... but the funniest was the overweight water-skier who went speeding by in his speedo... oy!

As I mentioned earlier, I'm enrolled in Spirituality and Practice's e-session with Richard Rohr, and Rohr's words for today, from his book Adam's Return, have something to say about control that I'm beginning to think only us old folks and mystics really understand:

"A phrase that dominates much of the self-help jargon of our society is "take control of your life." To be in control of one's destiny, job, or finances is an unquestionable moral value today. It even sounds mature and spiritual. On a practical level it is true, but not on the big level. Our bodies, our souls, and especially our failures, teach us this as we get older. We are clearly not in control. It is amazing that we have to assert the obvious. This is not a negative discovery but, in fact, the exact opposite. It is a thrilling discovery of one's fate, divine providence, being led, being used, one's life having an inner purpose, being guided, having a sense of personal vocation, and owning one's destiny as a gift from God. 

Learning that you are not in control situates you correctly in the universe. You cannot understand the joy and release unless you have been there. You come to know that you are not steering this ship. It is essential if one is to feel at home in this world, and it is found in all classic heroes, mystics of all religions, and Christian saints. They know they are being guided, and their reliance upon that guidance is precisely what allows their journey to happen. What perfect symbiosis! (See Romans 8:28ff. if you need confirmation.) The tragic hero, in classic theater, is precisely the one who ignores or denies this destiny or this guidance, because of hubris or pride. "

We had no illusions, in that canoe, that we were steering the ship: his brothers, ever the practical jokers, were in control (though they didn't pull any tricks on us).  And, having been married before, I had few illusions about marriage: I came into this one reluctantly, with a lot of baggage, ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble.  But for whatever reason we've been fortunate in this life we've built together, guided on occasion into new and troubling waters but always willing to make the best of it.  And it still, 27 years later, feels like an incredible gift.

No, I don't think I'm in control here.

And that's a good thing.


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