What I Can Control

by Anne Bennett on May 30, 2009

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor Frankl

When I was in college I lived at home for a time with my parents. One day something happened that fundamentally changed the way I viewed the world. It was a brief, seemingly inconsequential event that became a seminal moment in my life.

My father, who was a good man but an Irish Catholic drinker, was often given to drunken verbal outbursts that were unprovoked and hateful. One day he blasted at me full force, and while I no longer remember his words, I recall running out of the house crying, getting into my car and recklessly backing out of the driveway.  A Mozart violin quartet was playing on my car tape player. It was a piece that I had listened to so many times that I knew it almost by heart (often driving and steering with my knees and playing along on my imaginary violin). This particular time, however, it affected me in a completely different way. 

I remember stopping at the end of the driveway, looking back at the house and listening to the music. My dad was standing in the kitchen window glaring at me, daring me to drive away. 

And BOOM, it hit me. This is what I realized: I could not control the way my father was looking at me, I could not even make him love me, but I could control how I felt–about myself, my dad, Mozart. I could ignore this beautiful music and allow my father’s rage to make me as miserable as he must have been, or I could choose to hear its message, that beauty exists beyond our daily trials but only if we are willing to listen. It is the ultimate human freedom, our ability to choose our attitude even under the most dire of circumstances.

At that moment, sitting in my car in the driveway, I smiled, which must have really confused my father. He didn’t know that the strains of Mozart had replaced his outburst in my mind and heart.

My dad is gone now, but I am thankful to him. Despite his troubled spirit, he was the one who instilled in me the love of music. If only he had chosen to hear its message as I did.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron Couch May 31, 2009 at 4:23 pm

This is a great piece of writing.

admin June 1, 2009 at 9:48 am

Thanks, Aaron. I wrote it in response to the concerns of many of my Weight Watcher members who have been struggling with stress-eating during these uncertain economic times. I am often asked how I handle life’s difficulties without gaining weight; my answer is that I don’t always win the battle but when I do, it’s because of all the painful life-lessons I learned up to now. This one, with my father, was a very significant moment for me.

your adoring son June 1, 2009 at 10:14 am

I love this story, though, for me, it’s Bach that does the trick…

Ellie Callison June 14, 2009 at 7:23 pm

WOW… fabulous. And to tell you just how fab… I might even go in my kitchen and make one of your recipes!!!

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