I have a friend who obtained a Ph.D. in economics from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. While in the process of doing so, he had a saying he was fond of whenever someone accused him of spending too much time studying: “They don’t just hand out Ph.D.’s here, you know!”

After three semesters of masters classes, I will not even begin to pretend to know the amount of work it takes to obtain a Ph.D. What I do know, however, is that masters classes eat up a significant amount of time themselves, and I have found myself occasionally unable to do things I would normally do. Chief amongst these neglected activities has been lawn maintenance, which is something I have always taken care of myself during the spring and summer months. This year, though, I have not even had enough time to sit on the seat of the new John Deere lawnmower we recently bought, so drastic measures have had to be taken.

My two oldest daughters have taken over the riding lawnmower duties this year, and my oldest son is doing a little push-mowing as well, leaving me to weed-eat once they’re finished. They’re doing a pretty good job … although they occasionally miss a spot or two … and don’t really mow close enough around the house and trees and stuff … and leave little lines sometimes when they make turns… If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m having a difficult time relinquishing my duties.

I experienced something similar this weekend when my family and I visited the St. Louis Zoo. Usually on such a trip, I would be in charge of the camera, taking all the pictures except the ones I happened to be in. My oldest daughter (who will be 14 in just a couple of days) has recently expressed an interest in photography, though, so I decided to hand the camera over to her for the majority of the weekend. I say “majority of” because I did reclaim it for most of Sunday afternoon when we visited the Magic House, also in St. Louis. Old habits, as they say, die hard.

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What I have learned from these two experiences is this: I do not like turning things over to other people. I am very particular about how I do things, and I do not always trust others to do them the way I would. More to the point, though, is that I expect a certain outcome in most situations, and the most reliable way for that outcome to come about is if I am in control of what is going on. When I am not in control, there is a higher likelihood that things will not turn out the way I want, leading to much unhappiness on my part.

Let’s talk bigger picture, though, bigger than me and my yard or me and a digital camera. Sometimes we are faced with situations where we are not in control, where our actions and intentions, no matter how strong or sincere or noble they maybe, are simply not enough to induce change. In those moments, we have our own weakness thrust upon us, with the knowledge that the outcome may not be the one we want. The story might not end the way we want it to, and whether we call it God or fate or destiny or some other word, we have to acknowledge that we are no longer writing that story. It can be heartbreaking, maddening, defeating, even humiliating.

But it happens. Over and over and over again.

One of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog is because I control what happens here. In so many other areas of my life, however, I don’t get to control the outcome. I may lose people I love. I may not get that dream job. I may have to live with regret. The negative scenarios are endless to the depressive mind. At the same time, though, great hope can exist in the unknown. I may get that loved one back one day. That dream job might be out there. And maybe one day I’ll be able to lay my regrets aside and feel complete and whole.

As you can see, my daughter took some pretty great pictures. And my yard looks pretty darn good right now. Perhaps one day I’ll learn that turning things over can lead to both bad and good things. In the meantime, though, I’ll probably keep hanging onto every little thing I can. These are life lessons, and life isn’t handing out Ph.D.’s either.
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