When I was a student teacher, I was fortunate enough to work with some pretty amazing masters in their classrooms. One of them, a wise and hilariously sardonic intermediate teacher who was nearing the end of her career, noticed my leanings towards anxiety long before I had any clinical diagnosis, and pulled me aside for a conversation. “Lizzie,” she said (she was the first person to ever call me that), “I am about to change the way you see the world. In this life, every situation you come across can be divided into two categories: green cards and red cars. The red cards you cannot do anything about. The green cards allow you to take some action. You need to start figuring out which is which and focusing on the green.”
At first I thought this was a rather simplistic way of looking at the world. It wasn’t ok for me to look at a child who was going home to a trailer containing four families that had possible abuse and certainly no dinner. Beyond notifying social services and following channels to help where I could, there wasn’t anything I could do about it- at some point every day I just had to let the child go home. I would stand heartbroken watching that kid leave and almost break into tears, but she would just come up to me and pat my shoulder and say, “Lizzie, red card.” I would sometimes get angry at the red cards I came across because I wanted to be able to make a change. My mentor showed me the green cards in the situations where they could be found, and helped me along. It turned out to be not such a simplistic view after all, but one that provided me with the power to notice what I could change and the gift of letting go of what I could not.
In other parts of my life lately I have been grateful for the card system. I am not an angry person, but because of being a human and having thoughts, certain things really bother me. I had found that I was getting very frustrated by little things to the point of distraction. A perfect example happened recently while I was driving to take Daughter to visit my mom at night. A car in opposing traffic had those new LED headlights, which I hate. They were bothering me, hurting my eyes, making me crazy, until a little voice in my head said, “Lizzie, red card.” As simply as that, I was able to let all of the frustration go. In that second I realized there was nothing I could do about it, so why waste the energy?
Being reminded of this view has helped me immensely of late in dealing with my aging mother, too. I have been so frustrated by her refusal to see that she needs to live somewhere where she can be watched and checked on, but there isn’t really anything I can do about it at this point. I am, instead, focusing on the green cards. I can provide her with a refrigerator whose contents are safe to eat. I can clean her bathroom. I can fix her phone. I can create a system for her schedule. Finding the green cards among the red isn’t always easy, but it is sometimes the best I can do.