“A grandmother playing with her five-year-old grandson on the beach is horrified when a wave comes up and swallows the child whole, dragging him out to sea. Falling to her knees, she addresses the heavens in a state of near hysteria. “Oh God, please return my beloved grandson to me and I will be your devoted supplicant forever and always.” Her entreaty heard, the sky spontaneously clears, a second wave washes up on shore and belches forth the child, returning him unscathed, dry even. The grandmother, elated, faces the horizon once more, and says with the merest trace of impatience, “He had a hat!”
In not being satisfied until the child’s hat is returned, the grandmother in this story is a piece of all of us. When we’re scared, when we are “in a state of near hysteria,” when we are face-to-face with our powerlessness to preserve or protect whom or what we value, we are ready and willing to pledge our all to the All if our pleas for help are answered. But once we are back on familiar and secure ground, its business as usual – we’re in charge again, or so we like to think, and we’re not satisfied until we get the hat as well as the child.
This reflection is not an indictment of our fickle nature, it is not a reprimand or an encouragement to be more consistently humble even when life is going well; rather, it is an invitation to laugh at our tendency to forget our vulnerability and instead, to carry on with life in a state of unconscious denial. Would it be better if we were otherwise, if we walked with a greater sense of reliance on a Higher Power? Perhaps it would be, but that’s not who we humans generally are. We tend to schlep along doing our imperfect best to pretend that all is well even when it’s not, and to be a tad ungrateful because it’s not.
Maybe our inclination to forget our vulnerability and to convince ourselves that we’ve got it all together is basically healthy. It might just be that being in denial about life’s precariousness is better than a constant sense of walking on thin ice. In any case, our “I’ll get back to you when things get tough, God, meanwhile where’s the hat” attitude is who we are and how we negotiate life on an unstable planet. Better to laugh at our folly than to strive for unattainable perfection. Better to live with a smile than a frown. Better a light heart, than one that is heavy with worry.