I’ve been thinking about what I can resolve to do differently. There’s plenty I could name, but it’s the resolve that gets you, isn’t it? There’s a scene, towards the end of The Untouchables, when Jim Malone (Sean Connery), his body riddled with bullets, wheezes at Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) through blood bubbling up from his mouth: “What are you prepared to do?”
Malone doesn’t ask Ness what he feels like doing, or what he thinks he might do. He doesn’t care about emotions, or reasoned probabilities. He’s seeking resolve. What are you prepared to do?
It’s worth asking ourselves, each of us alone, in the lonely night’s dark when bluster and delusion have left us, when the hard truths of our lives press in close as shadows. What are you prepared to do?
There’s so much I need to do, and so little I feel prepared to do, but those sad truths are neither here nor there. The question isn’t about what we aim to accomplish, so much as it is about what we strive for with everything that’s good within us.
This is liberating, if you think about it. You can’t control outcomes, after all. You can’t make your son stop drinking or your husband stop cheating or your daughter stop cutting herself. You can’t make the boys in the upstairs office give you that promotion, or guarantee that all your hard-earned savings won’t get poured down the drain by some cabal of feckless politicians, all of them blaming one another while they look to you to replenish the till.
You can’t control outcomes, but you can control your actions. You can be kind to your mother even if she no longer recognizes your face. You can pray five times a day — ten if you need to, hour by hour if you’re like me — for a temporary release from the grip of self-centeredness. You can be sure to tell each of your children every day this year that you love him. Every day. Look him in the eyes and say it.
Nothing you or I do guarantees a happy ending. The world can take everything from us like that. But each of us decides what his next step will be, and the step after that.
What are you prepared to do?