In my everyday life, I say the Serenity Prayer a lot. Not just because I am a recovering alcoholic (and it is a fundamental tool in my everyday sobriety), but it has lots of application in my research life. And let’s face it: This book has pretty much become my life.
When I first started gathering information on Emmett Wilson, I had a broad idea about who he was and what his life was like.
As I’ve peeled the onion of discovery over the past 18 months, I have learned that that onion has some surprises in those layers, and when I find them, I realize that I must reconsider my understanding of Emmett Wilson.
It is essential not to draw conclusions early on in the research process or really, at any time until you have all the facts before you. The problem is, the facts are scattered to the winds, and I treasure every little thing I find. After 18 months, I feel as if I have most of it, and therefore, I am safe in making observations. Someone will ask me, “Why do I think Emmett did x?” and I feel pretty damn certain that my response will be accurate. I’ve been processing his information for a long time. I feel like I know Emmett.
So, I am a bit discombobulated because I found something new about him. I’m glad to have the new information, don’t get me wrong. The problem is that I feel as if I have Emmett all figured out, and when I find something new, it is as if I don’t.
But you know what? It does confirm what I have learned about Emmett in researching his life: He hid himself from his friends and loved ones until it was to the point where nobody was able to help him.
Hell. Emmett hid himself from himself. He had no coping skills to deal with his issues. And so, of course, nobody was able to get close to Emmett, because that was Emmett’s choice, too.
I cannot change who Emmett was, but I can I accept Emmett for who he was, good, bad, mediocre. As it says in the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” I see (and am seeing) a lot of things that make me uncomfortable in understanding Emmett. I cannot sit in judgement of the way he chose to live his life, and I don’t want to. I can only strive to understand his life as accurately as I can.
The Serenity Prayer continues, “…the courage to change the things I can…”. My role is to understand what it was like for him to live his life, as he struggled with loneliness, manipulation, self-esteem, and addiction, and to tell that whole story, accurately. It is apparent that Emmett’s actions were mostly a means to cope with these issues, which was not apparent to his friends and family, and certainly, not in the media coverage of his life. Emmett hid his issues quite well; he coped as best he could, but his secrets led to his death. As we say in the program, “we are only as sick as our secrets.”
The Serenity Prayer concludes, “…and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is the part where I cannot get angry about the information I find that I don’t like. What I need to change is my attitude about the information coming in. I don’t have to like what I find, but if I am going to honor Emmett with the story of his life, I have to do the right thing, and not sugar coat the truth, even if that truth is ugly in some places.
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