Spiritual teachers and mystics — I can’t remember who — say that as we mature, we become more interested in recognizing the mystery in life rather than striving to have mastery over it, which we once thought so important.
This mystery starts, I suppose, with my mother-in-law. She gave me a gift titled “The Mother of the Bride Book” when our daughter told us she wanted to be married the following summer.
Just as the book suggested, we gave our daughter a wonderful wedding, informed some by the book’s chapters on budget, guest lists, the ceremony and reception. We enjoyed the book and then gifted it to my cousin Nancy when her daughter announced her engagement.
Here’s where the trouble began. I vaguely, sort of, maybe, kind of remembered that possibly Nancy might have asked me if she could pass it on when she was done. I thought I recalled that Nancy said she wanted to give it to our cousin Diane, who would be planning the marriage of her daughter next.
But perhaps Nancy didn’t ask about Diane at all. Maybe Nancy had someone else in mind. I’m a little foggy on this obscure detail. In any case, I would have said, “Yes. Of course. Share it.”
Last summer, when my sister Vicki announced her daughter’s engagement, I thought I’d try to retrace the trail of “The Mother of the Bride Book.” How fun would it be to keep it in the family? It would be like that sourdough starter we tended so dearly in years past before we lovingly delivered the swollen plastic bag of puffy and multiplied sticky lumps of dough to sisters, cousins, aunts, mothers and grandmothers. Or maybe this book could be like a really cool family chain letter.
I called Nancy, making sure to downplay my request: “Really. It’s no big deal. If you have it, great. If not, I hope someone else is making use of it. That was my intention.”
Nancy said, “I don’t have it. I gave it to Diane. I don’t know what happened to it after that.”
I called Diane. “Nancy gave it to me,” she said. “And then I gave it back to Nancy.”
I sent an email, cc’d to both of them. It said: “Here’s my memory about the mother-of-the bride book:
1. I think I gave it to Nancy who (I think) then gave it to Diane and maybe, just maybe (can’t actually remember) someone asked if she could pass it on to someone else and I said, “YES,” in which case it’s out there somewhere helping someone and that’s good.
2. Nancy’s memory is that she gave it to Di and then Nancy never saw it again.
3. Di remembers that Nancy gave it to her and Di thinks she gave it back to Nancy.
Then I asked them both to do a simple, quick, easy search, just in case. Years ago, when I lived in the illusion of tight control over my life and a sure command over my circumstances, I might have berated myself: “Why did I give it away? Why don’t I know where it is?”
With escalating drama, I might even have exaggerated the dilemma in my mind: “Why can’t I keep track of things? I always lose stuff. What’s the matter with me?”
But now that I am more comfortable with unanswered puzzles and unanswerable riddles, I shrugged my shoulders and wondered how such things happen. I laughed. “Will the unknown ever make itself known? Even if it doesn’t, how funny is this?”
Then Nancy and I got a note from Diane. “OK, I JUST FOUND THE BOOK!!!!!! I thought for sure I had given it back to Nancy. I don’t even remember knowing that the book originally belonged to Susan. …”
What are our choices as we age? We can struggle to uphold the pretense of youthful proficiency and clever adeptness or we can surrender into the questions and predicaments of life, that divine mischief we can’t explain to ourselves. To embrace all this not-knowing and be OK with don’t-know, perhaps we should follow this simple advice from “The Mother of the Bride Book”: “Mingle! Laugh! Have fun! Enjoy yourself!”
Mystery over mastery. Now who said that?
Susan Lebel Young is a retired psychotherapist who now teaches mindfulness and yoga. She can be reached at: