A Breath of Fresh Air

I fully agree with the general consensus that we are living in both strange and trying times.  Although we are “social animals,” to quote the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, a virus has invaded our planet making it necessary to isolate from friends and stay away from social events that might attract crowds.  But even in the most trying of times, there is a wonderful attribute that humans possess that can bring the good to the surface .

I have exercised pretty much all my life, and with the help of some personal weights I own, along with some improvisation on my part, I have been able to maintain this habit without going to a fitness center.  I have developed an exercise program that consists of aerobics and weight lifting, every other day, along with jogging on the other days of the week.

All was going quite well until my body decided to behave like that of a 75-year-old man.  Suddenly, I felt a tweak in my back that became more pronounced when I played golf.  Hoping that it would go away, after I completed my weight lifting cycle, upon stretching in the lower back area, a flash of pain shot through my body.  I knew it would be unwise to continue to fight my body, and I immediately ceased my routine stretches.

That evening I slept quite well with only a slight backache.  The next day, in a state of denial, I started my normal jog I had been doing since the onset of the coronavirus.  But when my feet came pounding down on the sidewalk in front of my house, my senses were pierced by the hurt in my lower back.   Determined not to walk, I jogged in slow motion–to reduce the impact of my running shoes on the street–that resulted in much less discomfort throughout my body.  My pace probably did not exceed that of a walker who certainly was not breaking any speed records.

To me, I had a small victory in simply being able to “jog” as opposed to merely walking.   As I proceeded, tortoise like, I reached an intersection and pressed the button lighting up the pedestrian signal.  Unlike New York City where I lived before moving to California, pedestrians have the right of way when going through a crosswalk.  Still on the curb, the young driver of the car, stopped at the intersection, gave me the signal to go before him.  As I hopped off the curb, I chuckled to myself silently thinking: “Poor guy doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.”  In straining to thrust my body forward, I felt like an overloaded pack-horse trudging through a swamp.  After what seemed like an eternity, when I reached the end of the intersection, the driver yelled: “You looked great.  Just keep doing it.”

I was going to shout back: “It’s my back,” but decided a simple thanks was better than any explanation I could offer.  His words of encouragement facilitated the end of my jog allowing me to finish with a sense of accomplishment.  Sometimes positive recognition by a stranger or friend can alleviate life’s preoccupations.  The pain, though still present, no longer cried out to me as it had when I had first begun my jog.






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The Serenity Prayer and Beyond


The lines, now recognized as the Serenity Prayer, are rooted in a sermon that Reinhold Niebuhr, an American Reformed theologian, gave either in 1932 or 1933. They are the following:

  • Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped and the insight to know the one from the other.

Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve-Step programs have adapted it in the following way:

  • 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.

Regardless of the wording, the basic meaning does not change and, I would maintain that these words have had a profound effect on the way people think about things. One of the difficulties I have found people to have is their belief that they are capable of changing situations that they simply cannot. Thus, employees are not likely to change their boss’s behavior just as spouses are not likely to change certain traits their partners may have. The distinction is that they can change the way they react to their bosses or their spouses much more easily than changing how these significant others behave toward them.

An important ingredient in cognitive-behavior therapy is implicitly stated in the Serenity Prayer: You can change the way you think about others but don’t expect others to change for you. This is not to say–you can’t ask your spouse to change a certain type of behavior that you might find bothersome or annoying–without ever arriving at the desired consequences. You may. But generally, I have found that in most situations it makes more sense for a married couple to be able to live with and accept each other’s ingrained differences. Frequently, couples enter marital counseling with each partner blaming the other without understanding how each one’s behavior impacts the marriage.

Another illustration of this could be a student, after studying long hours, performs poorly on an exam. That student may blame her/himself for not doing well. Let us look at this example more closely. If the student did the best he/she could, then perhaps she/he may come to the conclusion that he/she is not particularly skilled in the area that exam covers. But if this is the case, does she/he have to feel badly about himself? Given the above information, I would answer this question with a firm “no.” However, what if that same student did poorly because of intense test anxiety, but she/he would have achieved a much higher score if the experienced anxiety was under control. Because no one of us can perform equally well in all areas that we may partake in, in the first situation it may be preferable for the student to accept this fact and focus on another field. In the second case, however, in which the student is suffering from test anxiety, she/he can change this through techniques involving relaxation and/or meditation with the possible help of a therapist or expert in that subject.

Many people are upset not only by the current coronavirus, but also by the way our leaders are handling the state of the world. I don’t doubt that these people may have the best of all intentions but I consider it unhealthy if their anger is such that they are paralyzed, thereby, preventing them from moving forward. Certainly, if you want change be sure to vote inasmuch as that is an activity within your power. However, changing the state of society is a huge task well beyond the scope of any one individual. Rather than expending so much mental energy in thinking about the impossible, I would advise these people to choose something near and dear to their heart in which their involvement might affect some type of change, whether it be small or large. Here, once more, we see from the Serenity Prayer the importance and wisdom of delineating between what we can change and what we cannot.