Yesterday afternoon, as I traveled by taxi and train to my family’s Thanksgiving celebration, I was imagining a sequel to the film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” which, as you probably know, depicts a tragicomic trip to Turkey Day.
My movie would be called “People, Places and Things,” a holiday fable whose moral would be a recovery saying I recited over and over again as I journeyed from Washington DC to New York City and checked into a hotel:
”I have no control over people, places and things.”
I whispered those words to myself on the Quiet Car of the Acela train when the folks across from me continued their drunken shouting even after I had pointed out that talking was verboten. And repeated them in despair when, having exited the train and pushed my way to the taxi stand, I realized that my laptop was still aboard the Acela and heading to Boston.
I mumbled them despondently in the back of a taxi stalled in traffic because of streets blocked off to make space for the ginormous balloons of the Macy’s Parade.
I recited them through tears of frustration after quarreling with a hotel manager who had booked me in a space too small to accommodate both me and my adult son who will be coming from Vermont today to join the gathering.
”Sir, you put me in a room with only one bed but I reserved a pull-out couch.”
”We have no record of that request, ma’am.”
“I specifically asked for a pull-out. My son is a grown-up. We don’t share a bed.”
”You should have double-checked the confirmation email we sent you.”
”No one told me to check the email. I trusted you.”
”I’m sorry, Ma’am, but we are fully booked. All the rooms with sleeper sofas are taken. Here is a voucher for a free breakfast tomorrow.”
And I am chanting them today as I eat the free kale frittata in my room-for-one, having just spoken to my son about returning to Vermont after dinner.
Recovery is all about relinquishing our need to control. It’s about accepting the things we cannot change and handing things over to our Higher Power. We are taught to “let go and let God” and “wear life like a loose garment.” If we don’t loosen our grip, frustration and resentment are likely to lead us back to addiction.
Letting go brings us tremendous relief from unhappiness but it is difficult to master, especially during the holiday season when we feel pressure to have an insane amount of fun and make everything turn out perfectly. At the same time, the chaos that ensues when millions of people are traveling, shopping, eating and trying to be perfect, pretty much guarantees that our attempts to have our way will fail.
There is, however, a miraculous thing that happens if we give up trying to change the things we can’t. The sweet and reasonable side of life shows up all on its own to help us out.
After I stopped sobbing in my hotel room and decided to check my email, I discovered that my laptop had been found on the train and would be returned to me via FedEx.
When I decided to not sulk in my room last night and went ahead with holiday plans, I had a lovely time with my relatives and a magical encounter with my sister’s adorable Tibetan spaniel.
Walking back to my hotel after socializing, I caught sight of one of the balloons that had stalled the traffic: a magnificent white goose with a golden beak. It was delightful.
And today I convinced my son to take the train back to New England rather than slog sleepily through traffic and weather in his Subaru.
People. Places. Things.
They are wonderful.
As long as we don’t try to control them.
Have a great Thanksgiving, dear readers, and thank you for letting me share!