“The boy continued to listen to his heart as they crossed the desert. He came to understand its dodges and tricks, and to accept it as it was. He lost his fear, and forgot about his need to go back to the oasis, because, one afternoon, his heart told him that it was happy.” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
“GOD WILLING, MIJO. GOD WILLING.” When I was a boy, I couldn’t understand why my Nana recited these words every time I spoke of the future.
“I’m gonna score a goal on Saturday, Nana.”
“God willing, Mijo. God willing.”
“Are you coming over for dinner tonight, Nana?”
“God willing, Mijo. God willing.”
No event was too big or too small to be qualified with her small profession of faith. Standing at her stove over food simmering in cast iron pans, singing gently to herself, Nana never missed an opportunity to pause and remind her grandchildren that the present moment was all we had, that our plans for the future were contingent upon the wisdom of Another.
This morning, as my clockwork anxiety reared its head, Nana’s words unexpectedly drifted through my consciousness. Athough she passed away several years ago, I could hear her voice speaking softly, assuring me that the present moment was enough and that the future was a gift that would wait to be unwrapped.
What I’ve come to understand is that “God willing,” for Nana, was the ultimate expression of acceptance. Her life had not been easy. She was a single mother of two sons and had lost her only daughter to an early death. She carried this pain her whole life, and as I look back now, having children of my own, the deep despair of loss was palpable in her eyes. Although I firmly believe that had Nana been given the opportunity to rewrite her history, eliminating the misfortunes, she would have declined the offer. Her faith asked her to accept her life with gratitude. Remarkably, she did.
Out of curiosity, I opened the dictionary to check the exact meaning of the word accept and found this definition: To receive (something offered), especially with gladness. Living and cooking for her family, carrying the deep despair of an unbearable loss, and reminding us that the future was secure in loving hands, was the offering Nana was glad to give as well as receive. As a boy, laughing with my siblings and cousins, and mischeviously repeating Nana’s refrain, I could have no idea that her words would provide so much comfort and hope during my current struggle managing a mental illness. While I may express it differently, my beliefs have come to parallel my Nana’s. I know the way forward is built on mindfulness of the present moment, a deep sense of gratitude (gladness), and a willingness to release outcomes.
My life is changing significantly as a result of my recent Bipolar diagnosis. At least now I understand the cause of the draining depression that always arrived following a period of elevated mood. And this morning’s gentle reminder helped me understand that true acceptance of my illness requires viewing it as an offering to be welcomed with gladness. Nothing has taught me more about what it means to be resilient, humble, and loving. And so I will accept the comfort of believing that all is well in this present moment, that there is so much to be grateful for, and that tomorrow will take care of itself…God willing. Thanks, Nana.