Things Beyond My Control

I am writing this in Word on my laptop in the living room because of things that are beyond my immediate control.

A week or so ago, the buzzing from the doorbell xylophone in the hallway at our new home began buzzing so persistently and at a gradually increasing buzz rate that Brandon decided to flip the breaker for the hallway, disconnect the doorbell, cap the electric wires, and screw a plastic cap over the top. This was all completed without any electric shock and with my flashlight holding assistance, and we are all a hair less insane for it. Not to mention quite impressed with Brandon’s handy-man-ness.

However, the cable internet box is on the same electric line, apparently, and when it turned back on, something happened. I don’t know what. Something. I can no longer connect to the wireless on this laptop. Don’t start with your internet-guru recommendations for powering down the box and counting to five and then to ten and then if that doesn’t work, 30, or removing the saved network and resetting the blah-dee-blah so that the yippity-do can reset… I tried all of that already. And, it’s only this computer. This network. My phone, the other wireless devices in the house, other laptops in the house, they all connect. And, I took this wireless-less laptop with me out of town last weekend and guess what. It connected to THAT wireless network.

Now, back on my home turf, there it is. The “wireless networks are available” signal with the optimistic gold star over a gray set of internet connectivity stairs. But, no.

My husband found this little thing called an “Ethernet” cord that connects the computer to the router. Ta-da! Wired network. Except that the router or modem or whatever is sitting on our piano and the cord is only three feet long, so in order to connect to the internet I have to sit on the floor by the piano. This is what the internet calls a first-world problem.

So I am sitting on the couch in the family room without internet access writing this blog post in Microsoft Word, because of things beyond my immediate control.

I like control. I like to do things a certain way because I know I will do things right and efficiently and in the time I want to have them done. I’m not sure you are aware, but this is not the best attribute for team building in a workplace (or family or marriage or church or friendship or life), and I’ve fought this personality trait for years. The “I’ll just do it myself” mentality is a dripping poison toward breakdown with a possible side effect of insanity and in some cases, a slow and lonesome death. It’s best to monitor yourself for symptoms daily in order to avoid the onset of a serious episode.

So I’ve been watching for things beyond my immediate control lately, things like the slowdown at the same places on Interstate 77 every morning, or where the lane ends heading southbound every evening, also the on-ramp at I-90 and Chester, and the driver(s) in the left-hand lane that belong in the right-hand lane. They are all beyond my control. The slowdowns, the traffic jams, the crawl toward home, the turn signal driver sitting in the ended-lane after whizzing by at 90… all beyond my control.

And then there’s the late meeting, the pack of undergrads walking slow in front of me, the cars that breeze through the crosswalk, all beyond my control, there’s the rain and the time change and the sudden virus attack and the fever and the chills, there’s the husband who has other priorities than laundry, there’s the children with their homework and their reading and their games and their practices, the children who want me always, the car that needs gas to go on the highway, the child who is not sleepy and is singing, all beyond my control.

When things are beyond my control, my instinct is to wrestle them into submission. “I’ll just do it,” I think, and I finagle maneuvers that will advance me through rush-hour traffic at the expense of my nerves and possibly someone’s fender (or middle finger). I rearrange traffic patterns. I consider edging my front end out into lane-ending traffic so to block the cheaters. I pray for the souls of the sinning Honda drivers of the world with their inconsiderate attempts to bypass the rest of us—graceful and humble—who have all waited our turn to get on the southbound ramp like good citizens of traffic land.

You wouldn’t believe how effective this is(n’t).

I was reminded last week that when we are so focused on the problem, we often miss the more creative solution and innovative opportunity that exist beyond the box. Focusing on the things that are beyond my control only reminds me over and over again how out of control I am. I have no control. Almost all of the time circumstances are beyond my control.

I think I spent most of last week staring at this problem: things are out of my control. I cannot see my old friends. I cannot go on a date with my husband. I cannot make the traffic go faster. I cannot make new friends because I do not have time to see my children. I cannot write because I need to read. I cannot read because I need to see my husband. I cannot see my husband because he is working. I am working. I am driving a long way to work. I am stuck in traffic. I am stuck in traffic. My wireless internet is not working on my laptop. Things are beyond my immediate control.

Sigh. This is a lousy place to stay. This loop, this constant hamster wheel, this anxiety spinning circus, I’m pretty sure that short-circuited my immune system and landed me in bed Saturday night for fifteen hours after two days at a writers conference. I could hear God saying, “How’s that ‘I’ll just do it’ attitude working for you now?” as I texted my mom and mother-in-law to watch the kids for one more night, as I pulled off the highway to park in a rest area and sleep for twenty minutes before finishing my drive. How’s that working for ya?

Once you stop staring at the problem and accept these circumstances—these completely immediately uncontrollable circumstances—real-life solutions start to materialize. Hey, did you know that time actually speeds up when you talk to your mom on the phone for your morning commute, and it works going home, too, with a friend you haven’t spoken with in months? Did you know that the other drivers on the road kind of disappear when you are so engrossed in a phone conversation or radio show, and you drive and drive and suddenly, you are pressing the garage door opener and saying, “Hey, I gotta run, I’m home already”? Did you know that when the time is compressed with your family into two-and-a-half hour blocks it distills stronger, its quality is sometimes better, purer under pressure, each second of Sorry or dinner or living room yoga or Harry Potter kind of sacred, kind of holy?

I wouldn’t have known these things except that I stopped staring at the problem. Do you know what looped in my head most of last week as well? I-miss-Brandon-I-miss-Brandon-I-miss-Brandon with a side dose of Why-doesn’t-he-do-this-Why-won’t-he-say-that? You can guess how productive those two navel-gazing loops were. But when I stepped out of the hamster wheel and said, “I miss you,” when we started to communicate again about date night and commiserating schedules and began to plan for the future (see “possibilities,” see “innovation,” see “creativity”), suddenly there was love again.

Staring at the problem breeds despair. Looking beyond the problem fosters hope.

Did you know that you can write a lot more with a lot less distractions when you are writing on a computer that doesn’t have an internet connection?

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

One thought on “Things Beyond My Control

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: