I once believed the unpredictable movement of the cosmic wheel determined my fortune—for good or for ill. I saw myself as a victim of fate. I envisioned my life as a slender thread to be spun, measured, and cruelly cut by the capricious whims of a random universe. Now, I have a new belief. I believe that happiness is a conscious choice.
Nine years ago, I discovered I have the power to choose my happiness. My son, Zachary, was diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, and Tourette Syndrome. At the age of seven, he was a verbal child, yet often uncommunicative, an impulsive runner, an escape artist, a screamer, a grunter, and an incredible inconvenience in a first grade classroom. He would run, hide under desks, and climb the furniture. My husband and I consulted a neurologist who told us the best thing we could do was ensure Zachary received an “appropriate” education.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of Zachary’s disabilities, our school district was both unable and unwilling to work with our family. Documents were shredded. Meetings were held without us; the one we did attend was an ambush. Whether the comments of the school’s behavioral consultant stemmed from thoughtlessness or calculated cruelty, I do not know. However, the effect of her words was the same, cutting me down at the root, like a saw’s teeth against the base of a fragile sapling: “You don’t understand,” she said. “Your son cannot be educated; he can only be contained.”
I was devastated. During the year and a half that I fought for services, I felt every negative emotion: sorrow, frustration, rage, disgust, and disillusionment. My health suffered. My relationships suffered. I had begun to believe that happiness was not a possibility for my family or me.
During this difficult time, my mother gave me a gift: a book, filled with inspirational essays. I remember being deeply moved that she cared enough to offer me a gift, and frustrated that she thought something so trivial could help. I stayed up all night reading. Somehow, the combination of my mother’s small act of kindness and the essays about acceptance and loss brought me to realize that although I could not change my circumstances, I could change the way I chose to react.
Gradually, I learned to let go of the struggle. I chose to quit fighting against the school, and started teaching Zachary at home. I managed to reclaim some measure of peace for my family and myself.
I now realize happiness is always possible. I recognize that one’s fate is determined by choice, not random events. I understand that bliss is not a fleeting Edenic vision, characterized by innocence and unfamiliarity with suffering. The most difficult time in my life shaped a new perspective: the belief in my power to choose happiness, regardless of life’s circumstances.