My daughter, Elena was at the tender age of five and a half when her mom and I started attending AA and Al-Anon meetings. Because we weren’t able to afford child-sitters when we both attended the same meeting, Elena came along and sat off to the side with her coloring books and sketch pads.
And apparently listened. Because one morning, after we’d said the Serenity Prayer at the breakfast table (which we estimated she’d heard some 3,000 to 4,000 times by then), Elena wondered, “What does ‘acceptance’ mean, Dad?”
Now, I come from Scottish-Huguenot stock, born in Vermont, where stoicism flavors the morning coffee, and was raised in the Calvinist tradition which considers resignation to be next to godliness. I said, “‘Acceptance’ means, take it as it comes.”
My wife, however, comes from a different place: ethnically Greek, born in Pittsburgh, raised in Washington, D.C. Maria said, “I don’t think that’s quite it.” She suggested we check the dictionary.
Now, I can go on for quite some time about page 449 of the Big Book and acceptance. Not only acceptance of life on life’s terms, but also self-acceptance as the key to the process of self-recovery, the happy result of putting myself in the hands of a loving God, the pathway to progressively deepening understanding of those “violent emotional twists.” Et cetera, et cetera. And I often think of my friend, sober for over twenty years, who when someone said, “You get what you need,” leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I say, you get what you get.”
To me, those words held out the height of acceptance, and I willingly added them to my sharings about acceptance. And, though embarrassed when others pointed at me and shared how my words had helped them withstand “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” my blush hid a prideful glow of self-satisfaction.
Though the dictionary was fetched, I remained certain of my definition. After all, I am a writer and I know words. Well, I thought I did, anyhow, because what Maria read that morning was “gladly and willingly take it as it comes.”
Now that I found hard to take. And it’s taken me some time to get my mind around it, too. It never occurred to me that I needed to love life on life’s terms. No matter how relaxed one is, the difference between a clenched-teeth, crossed-arms resignation and the open-armed embrace of all that is, is precisely the difference between conditional and unconditional love.