"The Monkey's Paw" is a short story written by W.W. Jacobs and originally published in England in 1902.
The tale, in short: A military man returns from serving in India with a monkey's paw, supposedly enchanted and able to grant three wishes. Though there are the usual dire warnings about consequences and such, a couple uses the paw to wish for money to make their final house payment. Shortly after the wish their son is killed in a horrible machinery accident and the sum they receive in compensation is the amount needed for their final payment. After the funeral, distraught with grief, the mother wishes their son back. A short while later, shambling footsteps drag up the front walk followed by a hollow knocking at the front door. While the mother races to open the door, the father, knowing what horror is likely standing on the other side, wishes their boy away again. Although different tellings and adaptations over the years ascribe high minded language about fate and fortune to the story, I've always thought the more direct "Be careful what you wish for" hit the nail on the head. (Or the paw on the palm, I suppose.)
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I've written before about how my current job, while something I'm grateful for -- and a place I completely acknowledge where I've grown and changed in big and wonderful ways -- is not anything even remotely close to what I hoped/dreamt for in life -- especially at this age. Having shared that, let me add that I know gratitude is not a homework assignment. I can be sincerely grateful for something, see and enjoy all the good in it, and still have a vision of something different.
In fact -- and this is important for me -- the idea of seeking gratitude for what I have in my life cannot become a club I use to bludgeon myself into some sorry kind of stagnation. It should neither be a way I blind myself from considering new paths nor an impediment to forward motion. (For the record no one ever suggested it should be. It's what my twisty thoughts and gnarly perspective sometimes take away from discussions about being grateful in sobriety. Sometimes in the back of my mind I discover all kinds of "shoulds" and "shouldnt's" with no idea how they grew there. Quietly, I suppose, like toadstools in the dark.) Wanting more -- or even wanting different -- does not automatically equal being ungrateful for what you have. It can mean that, yes -- so it's something to look at -- but it doesn't always mean that.
For me, gratitude is one important way I keep a conscious contact with a God of my understanding; a healthy perspective on what I have and what I've been given rather than a pointless focus on what I lack (and therein lies the true stagnation). But sometimes the itch is to build on the gifts I've been given, not just to appreciate them. Emmett Fox calls it "Divine Discontent" and uses the somewhat cliche but very apt analogy of the caterpillar and the butterfly to illustrate this concept.
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I've been praying to God for help with the work thing. Specifically, I've been praying big, open-ended, "get me out of here is this all there is get me out of here throw me a rope throw me a rope throw me a rope" kinds of prayer. I know I have to do the footwork, but in a big Universe full of wild miracles and crazy opportunities I've built a decent track record for knocking on doors and doing the aforementioned footwork to go through them -- but sometimes I need God to reveal the damn door, and my throw-me-a-rope-God's are my way of asking for that. Certainly AA is wise to suggest that I "pray only for God's will for me and the power to carry that out" as it helps me stay away from resentments and expectations of God and how H/She works, but I think praying for, in essence, other ways to use the gifts I've been given lines up nicely with that. (I know, deeply, that I am a whisker's breadth away from some spiritual lawyering there, weaving rhetoric and warping context to bolster my own bullshit, but I don't think I'm quite there. Of course, we never do, do we?)
And my prayer has been answered.
I'm out of the restaurant I've been managing.
And into a different restaurant for the same company. Busier, much more challenging and far less convenient, commute-wise. Full disclosure: There is a modest raise with this transfer, so there is that.
Now, before the kind hearted and well-intentioned of you gently point out that this might count as some kind of endorsement from the top folks at this fledgling enterprise I'm afraid I must inform you that this is much more akin to a battlefield promotion. They're in a mad scramble to fill the suddenly open spots, not truly rewarding/acknowledging jobs well done.
And I confess, once this was laid on me and I had time to digest it, I had a pretty sour, "Be careful what you pray for" bubble up inside. As if a God who gave me the opportunity to save my life would then spend the rest of it punishing me every time I made an honest request; or would turn my open-hearted prayer into a way to 'teach me a lesson.' Truly, that is superstition, not spirituality: Appease the volcano God or suffer the consequences.
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So today the challenge on Planet SponsorPants is to keep an open mind -- or rather, to keep prying it back open after it slams shut under the weight of projection and ego and fear (the usual suspects). My years sober help me recognize these things happening to me -- and maybe fluency with the tools of AA allows me to address them more quickly -- but the years don't prevent them from occurring.
The challenge is to keep faith, and not let my spirituality slip into that subtle but simplistic superstition; that is, a loving God will always give me a good result, there is no "monkey's paw effect" at play once I have "made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God." It is only my head, torturing me again, deciding all is ashes before I've even lit the fire.
I have to work to remember the great AA adage (we probably stole it, but I heard it in AA first), which is roughly this: The worst things in my life never happened to me.
And finally, I have to keep my eyes open to the fact that over and over and over in my life -- and in the lives of the people in Recovery around me -- there is profound evidence that if I can approach each situation as a way for me to give rather than get, as a way to be of service, then my head straightens back out and quiets down and my heart opens back up and the little nuisances in life are just that. Little.
* * * * *
I can get there.
Well, I can get back there. (Not truly there this minute.)
But it's not effortless.
Not yet. (It'll get easier though.)
In the grand scheme of things this is hardly on the same level as bad medical news or unjust jail time or random tragedy striking. I know that. On a basic level it's simply one more time, things are not the way I want them to be. It's just that as an alcoholic sometimes that can be justification for some powerful, foolish, self-destructive decisions. I feel that part of me growling in its sleep.
So I just keep on -- we keep on -- and try not to indulge the worst parts of ourselves; try not to awaken the King Baby of Bridge Burning and Self Destruction, so I can more easily see the miracles which keep coming down the road.
That's my mantra for this morning.
There are more stories like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download the Kindle reader app for free on any device or platform, from PC to Smartphone, and enjoy eBooks anywhere you have time to read.