Photo of Andrew Belonsky at age 5.
Acceptance is a pretty complex concept. Sure, we accept things every day. We accept the price of coffee. We accept that countries war, that there are crazy people on the subway, that an assignment is due in two hours. But this is all amateur hour acceptance. It's more coping than anything else, and though related, acceptance and coping are very different beasts. Coping is more of a mechanism. Actual acceptance is an exercise in balance.
I'll warn you now, the etymology of "acceptance" isn't very exciting, but it is terribly telling. The word as we know it comes from the late-16th Century French term "acceptance" -- I told you this wasn't exciting -- and that in turn came from the late-14th Century "accept," which means to "take what is offered." The abbreviated "accept" stems from the Latin acceptare. This translates to "to accept or receive willingly." So far, so obvious, right? But things get interesting when you look acceptare's cousin, accipere. That breaks down to "to be capable of." You have to be capable to accept what's offered. You have to be strong. You have to rise to the occasion, and it's here that acceptance differs from simple coping, from simply muddling through.
I didn't want to accept my homosexuality. I first didn't understand it, then I rejected it, then I actively tried to hide it -- not very successfully, I might add -- by dating women. Then, unhappy and well-aware my deception hurt others, I faced reality: I am gay. That is what I had been offered, what I am, and though it took many years, I became capable of being proud. I grew into it. I'm down with it now. I've accepted it and love it.
But acceptance isn't necessarily a solid thing. You can't always accept and call it a day. Acceptance can take practice and vigilance, too. As a personal example, I accept that I am an alcoholic who can't drink. No matter how delicious that whiskey may look, I accept that its consequences would be disastrous and I am capable of saying no. This takes willingness and strength. Acceptance becomes a balance between humility (receiving willingly) and fortitude. Yet, even this doesn't fully capture acceptance's true power. Acceptance isn't simply shaped by reality. It shapes it, too.
According to Merriam-Webster, "acceptance" is the quality of being "accepted," which the dictionary defines as "generally approved or used." Acceptance is the act of taking something that was once startling and creating a new normal. It will take me years to fully accept the recent death of my mother. I understand what has happened, I am capable of moving forward, but I will not be "used to it" for a very long time. It won't be normal anytime soon. I will not fully accept it for many years to come, if ever. But that's graduate-level acceptance, and I accept that it will take time. For now, I'm just happy taking each day as it comes, being a proud gay man who rejects drinks and accepts life on life's terms. I'm capable of it, that I know, and it's sure as shit less stressful than fighting what we can't change.
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