The version most of us know goes like this.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Penned in the 1930s by Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (although some scholars think Niebuhr unwittingly claimed the words of others as his own), early versions mentioned Jesus Christ and a world of sin. But in its modern form, this humble adage is a mere 25 words and mainstay at 12-step meetings, where it’s recited at the close of nearly every gathering.
The words are a perfect fit for those feeling powerless over an addiction.
Now, the Serenity Prayer is resonating with a new crowd.
It’s speaking to Americans like you and me, people feeling helpless and hopeless over COVID-19—a virus so microscopic that millions can reside on the head of a pin, and still claim the lives of more than 181,000 Americans, so far.
That’s only one sobering statistic.
We’re just six months in, but so many of us have gotten so very sick—nearly six million cases, which is close to three times the number of American casualties of the entire Vietnam War. Public health officials also say that because of an acute shortage of trained contact tracers, the accurate number (which includes thousands of children) is much higher.
There are those who haven’t caught the virus.
But they, too, are victims of its consequences—a record loss of jobs, businesses and homes.
More than 40 million unemployment benefit claims have been filed, exceeding the jobless levels of the Great Depression. Also, nearly 66,000 businesses have folded since March, and some 25 million Americans are in imminent danger of losing their homes in a few months.
I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t change these numbers.
I also can’t change those who believe that the federal response to the pandemic is now "it is what it is," or follow
Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t read; surrounds himself with criminals, and has dozens of sexual misconduct
complaints against him, including two rapes.
But I’m doing my best to muster the courage to change what I can.
A lot of this means checking my own behavior.
So, Hubster and I always wear our cloth masks when we’re inside a store. There’s no dilly dallying either: we walk in with a list and get in and out as soon as we can. And per CDC guidelines, we wash our hands with warm water and soap whenever we think of it; use hand sanitizer if that’s the only option, and practice social distancing.
At the same time, we’re mindful about supporting local business.
For us, that means dinner once a week at a family owned eatery, always going in the late afternoon when there are fewer diners, and always keeping our masks on except when eating. We always leave more than a 20 percent tip, too, because we know that restaurants have had a particularly rough time.
And while it’s harder to find volunteer opportunities right now, we have, aware that doing this isn’t only for others, but for our own well-being.
In the last two months, we’ve sent hundreds of cloth and disposal masks to the Native American reservation in South Dakota which is so near to my husband’s heart, and which has been decimated by COVID-19. And for two hours every Saturday, we’re at our nearby farmers’ market (masked and distanced) dispensing information about a tiny house community for the homeless that, despite the pandemic, will break ground next month.
For me, I've also committed to sending 100 letters with Vote Forward, a non-profit that reaches out to unregistered or low-propensity voters, urging them to exercise this most basic of American rights. And because I'm a big believer in the power of knowledge, I'll continue to post revelvant articles on social media—all from reporters and scientists and essayists whom I trust and respect.
While I know I can’t change anyone’s mind, maybe I can get some folks to pay attention.
I’ll keep praying for the wisdom to know what I can change and what I can’t.
I hope everyone else is doing the same.