When I was young, my dad always said, “Crystal, you can choose your attitude.” One day I chose to believe him. I’m not sure when my perspective shifted, but over a lifetime I’ve learned that I can’t control everything. I can’t control what other people do or say. I can’t control illnesses or natural disasters. As a matter of fact, the only thing I can control is my own reaction to whatever happens.
Like that time when I found myself alone on a road trip with my son Drew. Three hundred and seventy-six miles from home, my mild-mannered, soft-spoken son transformed into a bizarre, frantic person behind the wheel. “Are you racist?” He asked, more accusation than question, his sideways glance revealed suspicion.
Anyone who knows me would think the question strange. At the time, I taught high school English at a diverse suburban school, and I love my students—my other kids. I breathed in through my nose and exhaled through my mouth. I shook my head back and forth. “No, Drew, I’m not racist.”
He raged from one accusation to the next, as if someone held the remote, flipping channels. “Read your wrung. What does that mean?” We sped down the highway.
“What?” I thought I had misheard him.
“Read. Your. Wrung.” Drew slowed the statement, but not the car. “That’s what you said to Mimi. She’s a witch. You’re both witches.”
I braced myself in my seat, knowing without doubt that we had a major problem—not brain damage like Drew believed—a psychological, perhaps psychiatric problem. I didn’t know the difference. He had heard me cast a spell? “No, Drew, we are not witches.”
For six solid hours, Drew expressed suspicions, delusions, and perplexingly incomprehensible thoughts. In my head, we veered full speed into oncoming traffic. I wanted to text my husband, but there was nothing he could do and no textable explanation. I did not in any way want to heighten Drew’s hysterics. So, for six solid hours, I prayed to God for our peace, our safety, and our lives. This was the beginning of my son’s mental health journey, before the schizophrenia diagnosis, and since then God has shown up for me over and over.
Yes, I’ve learned I can’t control everything. Like that time when Hurricane Harvey flooded my house. Looking back, I only grabbed what I needed for an evacuation and packed what I could carry in an over-the-shoulder bag. The night of our rescue after a slosh on foot to the nearest pet-friendly hotel, I dug my orange journal out of my bag, the journal with embossed letters that spelled Gratitude, and this is what I wrote:
Aug. 27, 2017
Today Kody, Drew, Rain, and I were rescued by HFD on an emergency truck with sixteen people including our neighbors and first responders and seven dogs. Water shin deep flooded our house when we left. Our yard was submerged to my knees. I’m thankful for being able to communicate via cell phone and Facebook. I’m thankful for those who have prayed and continue to pray for us. I’m thankful for the La Quinta and breakfast and a room, actually a suite and space for Drew, and for a shower and dry clothes and for our next-door neighbors Boaz and Megan (also sheltered here) who brought us water and snacks and for the restaurant at the Hilton across the street that had wine!!
I suppose in that moment I realized I needed God and gratitude. I can’t imagine living in a La Quinta for ten months any other way.
Yes, I’ve learned that I can’t control everything, and in those times when my world shakes so hard that the sky falls off my life, my dad’s words echo, and I choose my attitude—faith and gratitude, peace and hope.