Admitting Powerlessness

Admitting powerlessness
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

I travel sometimes for work. Every time I do, my wife, Amy, worries about me. Before a recent trip alone, she admonished me no less than four times to travel safely. Though I don’t have much control over that in flight, except for using my seat cushion as a flotation device in the event of a water landing, I told her I would.

What neither of us was thinking about was the safety of the family I left behind.

Amy joked that my little Prius was doomed for an apocalyptic fate, since she had cleaned it for me while I was out of town. An innocent joke, but it turned out to be eerily prophetic.

I got a call on Wednesday afternoon from Amy. She was crying.

“Everyone is all right,” she said between sobs, “but we got in a pretty bad wreck.”

With the kids in the back seat, Amy pulled out of a parking lot after being waved out by a driver in the right lane (what we’ve since learned is called the “death wave” by insurance folks), and was met by a full-sized pickup in the center lane whose massive grill guard lifted our little hybrid off the ground, shearing the front completely off.

She sent me a picture from her phone and my stomach sank. Even though I knew no one was hurt, just seeing the car so mangled and knowing my whole family had been so close to a similar fate, made me nearly sick.

Times like that make harshly real how tenuous our grasp is on anything in this life. I had no control over what happened, whether or not I had been there, or if I had spent more time worrying about what might – and this time, did – happen.

Strangely, this sense of powerlessness made me think of a friend of mine who has been working on his sobriety for some time, but who resists involvement in a 12-step group or any sort of faith community. The reason, as it’s been suggested to me by a couple of people, is because he has a hard time with the idea of handing over power to a higher authority.

Anyone in AA or the like can tell you that you don’t have to believe in God to have your recovery work. Your higher authority can be whatever you choose, but the idea is to admit your own powerlessness. After all, as one friend of his pointed out to him, he yielded to the higher authority of drugs and alcohol for long enough. Why not try something or someone else?

One of the scariest things about admitting powerlessness, whether we’re addicts or not, is that we’re conceding the reality of suffering in our lives. We can’t stop it, and that angers us. To me, a healthy faith is not one that leans on promises of wealth, comfort or a lack of hardship, but rather one that strives for peace amid an unavoidably hard life.

In the end, my own peace is the only thing over which in fact I have any control.

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