Yes, it’s a powerful song and yes, the words are striking.
But for me at least, it’s the power that accompanies exposure. The jolt of familiarity as I’m struck by the pride and selfishness of my own heart. And an unwavering insistence on doing it ‘my way’, even when ‘my way’ starts to look like hell on earth.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Sinatra. I’ve howled along to this on more occasions than I care to remember. But it’s a celebration of something we ought to be mourning. The illusion of control – over ourselves, our world and our destiny.
‘I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way’.
As I read these words, I’m inclined to agree. Surely I am the result of the choices I’ve made. Marriage – tick. University – tick. Eating disorder –tick. But as Sinatra continues, our reactions start to diverge;
‘I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried.
I’ve had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing’.
Looking back over my life, there’s been some comic moments, (mostly unintentional). But there’s a problem. If I really am in control of my life, then I’m responsible for it too. The wasted gifts, the things I’ve done – and worse, left undone – mine. The broken body and relationships. Mine. The present and the future – mine, all mine. As I consider this, I’m not left like Sinatra, with an ironic sense of amusement. I’m winded by sorrow. And a guilt I can’t make better.
‘For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it my way!’
Again, this resonates. I long to be in control of my world. And most of the time I believe it too. Managing the diary means I don’t have to deal with unstructured time. Managing the budget means I can factor ‘luxuries’ under ‘essentials’ . Managing other people means I don’t get hurt.
Who’s in control? I am. And woe betide anyone who tries to get in the way.
Being in control makes me feel safe and powerful. It protects me from other people. From God, interfering. And from myself. My desires, hungers and fears. At least that’s what I think. But is it true? Can we control our desires through self-imposed legislation?
Let’s take a bigger example. In Saudi Arabia, many women have to cover their faces and hair in public. It’s seen as a way of protecting both women and men, as well as upholding certain standards. Recently however, a government body proposed women should have to cover up their eyes as well. The proposal came from a member of the committee (for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice), who found himself attracted to a woman’s unveiled eyes and then got into a fight with her husband. Quite apart from the hijab debate, it illustrates the truth that no law can control the desires of our own hearts.
In a fascinating interview with Barbara Walters, (from Butner Prison), the convicted fraudster Bernie Madoff, says this: ‘I have…no decisions to make. I know I will die in prison. I lived the last 20 years of my life in fear. Now I have no fear because I’m no longer in control’.
Whilst I wouldn’t normally take life (or financial) advice from Madoff, I think he makes an important point. The more we try to exert control, the more it eludes us and the more anxious we become.
We can’t obey God’s laws on our own – and if we try to, they will kill us. Instead, when we recognise we’re not in control – but that He is, we can lay our anxieties down. Whatever Sinatra says, it is only in kneeling and letting Christ take the blows, that we find life.
It’s His way – not mine. And that’s a real show-stopper.