I opened my eyes in the middle of the night like it was my normal time to wake up, and the word “acceptance” came to life in my head like a real live person. I was watching from my bed, looking with my inner eyes as this tall word stretched out its long arm and turned on a light in my head. I kept wondering about the origins of this sudden thought. Just the night before something enormous happened in my life, but I know that it didn’t birth this word – or did it? No; it was unrelated, but the word still had its roots in a ground of stories.
Right now at school, my American Literature students are studying Realism and Naturalism writers. This year another teacher and I teamed up to design a Project Based Learning (PBL) unit where the students learn through inquiry, hypothesis, discovery, and problem solving. As we were reviewing the foundation of what Naturalist writers believed, we concluded that they subscribed to the idea that life happens as it does, and humans have no control over their environment, their interaction with nature, their society, and certainly not their biology – meaning if you grew up in poverty, were caught in the middle of a tornado, lived in a country with a dictator as a ruler or were born a woman, then you have to accept that and solve whatever problem may arise from the situation. It is important to note however that accepting one’s circumstances is not synonymous with just settling for anything. Let’s use one of those earlier examples. If it happens that one is born a woman in an environment that does not allow females to be educated, she must accept the circumstances of her birth in her environment, but then decide from there, how she will proceed further. This is where the word “acceptance” garners its value. It’s a healthy nudge in the back.
In talking with friends, family, students, reading Facebook posts, and even thinking self-reflectively, I’ve discovered that we all at some point find ourselves stuck on the hamster wheel of needing the answer to “why” before we proceed further. Picture that – a hamster on a wheel. Maybe we believe that the answer to that question will somehow be the magic that makes everything clear. We will finally be able to understand the phenomena in the world (our personal worlds or the bigger world around us). If we can understand why this person died now…..why this person acts this way, says these things, repeats the same injurious habits, takes advantage of his/her blessings, etc. then it’ll make sense and we can move onward. Interestingly enough, we never ask “why” we woke up this morning when others didn’t, “why” we have the use of all our senses, “why” we’re not homeless, “why” we have love when we’ve been so undeserving, etc. I still remember reading an article about tennis great Arthur Ashe when I was a teenager. People wanted to know if he ever asked God “why” he contracted the AIDS virus. His response was so profound to me even in my youthful ignorance. To paraphrase his response, he said that he never questioned God about why good things happened, so he didn’t question God about the bad. His response seemed to exude “acceptance” so that he could focus on how he would spend the remainder of his days.
I believe that there are some “whys” that will never be answered. I will never know why my mother died of breast cancer when I was just eleven years old while some girls have their mothers for a lifetime just as I will never know why I was born with both feet and hands when some children were not. Always needing the resolution to a sometimes unresolvable “why” prohibits our move forward, but “acceptance” allows us to start the journey. And acceptance isn’t defeat; it’s just the gun that sounds so that we can take whatever the next steps are that we need in order to move forward.