The last stage in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s seminal work on death and dying – after grief, denial and anger – is acceptance. There is the recognition that this is our reality and we need to find a way to live with it. Even more, a way to embrace it.
Acceptance isn’t just limited to death. It is the healthy response to all of life’s challenges.
We waste a lot of energy railing against the unfairness or injustice of the circumstances, the malice, inappropriateness or sheer meanness of other people. This does not change them or the situation. We still need to find a way to cope. We still need to find a way to respond. And our aggravation has been exacerbated, not diminished.
Sometimes our frustrations are trivial: we stayed home all day waiting for the plumber and he didn’t show up. I forgot about the fish while I was writing this article and it burnt so I have to start all over again.
Sometimes they are more significant: my daughter’s best friend won’t speak to her. My son’s former employer is spreading nasty rumors about him. My nephew is stuck in bed with a broken leg. My husband lost his job.
And some are very serious: disease, psychological trauma, death.
All these situations present us with both unique opportunities and a universal one.
We need to take practical action suited to the circumstances and we need to work on acceptance.
If we are stuck home, we are somehow meant to be. If we are treated badly, there is a lesson for us, somehow we are supposed to learn and grow. Nothing happens without the Almighty’s providence (they are, of course, still responsible for their negative behavior!). Our job is acceptance.
We need to accept life’s vicissitudes with equanimity. This doesn’t mean we won’t experience pain. If people hurt us, we are saddened. If we lose a love one, we are sorrowed. If we care, we cry.
Acceptance means we won’t allow these experiences to embitter us or our relationships.
It means that we won’t allow these experiences to embitter us or our relationships. We will recognize them as part of the script that the Almighty wrote, accepting our role in this vast, ongoing drama.
We can spend our lives resentful of parents who didn’t give us enough attention, angry at siblings who weren’t as solicitous of our needs as we expected, railing against employers who took advantage of our skills and knowledge to pad their own pockets, complaining to our Creator that He took our loved ones too early.
Or we can work on acceptance. This Rosh Hashana that's what I am doing. I am relinquishing bitterness, blaming, resentment (what fantasy world am I living in?!). No sense of entitlement, no expectations. Imagine all the psychic space it will free up! Imagine all the brain power that can be put to better use.
Of course it won’t be easy. Real change never is (don’t I tell myself that every year at Rosh Hashana time?). But I don’t think I have a choice. It’s the only truly healthy way to live. It’s the only truly honest way to live. It’s the only way for a person who believes to live.