Like fingernails on a chalkboard, I hear five words way too much. It contains nothing but twelve meaningless letters. Twice last week which is a low for me. “It is what it is.” It says zero to me but the speaker thinks it speaks volumes. Two repeating words with a “what” in the middle are supposed to summarize one’s present predicament.
It is often said as a conclusion as though there is nothing more to say. I guess you could call it a spoken period. Where’s theologian Reinhold Niebuhr when you need him?
Are we that quick to sell out? It is not even resignation because that would imply a recognition that nothing more can be done about a particular situation. “I am resigned to this,” is not the same as saying, those twelve letters.
Twelve letters that represent nothing says something about our English education. Whatever the subject that concluding statement leaves me baffled as I walk away. “Was he talking about sorrow or grief or talking about an unknown future?” I think to myself. “Please, try to think of a noun.” It helps the listener (i.e. me) immensely.
Where would the great protestors of our culture be if that phrase was thrown out at a civil rights rally or gay rally or Vietnam protest or women’s rights or BLM or how many others we can recall? The reason for those gatherings was that whatever the “it” was, it was the “it” that gathered the group to change the present “it” to a different or new “it.” (Don’t you sometimes hate pronouns?)
Niebuhr gives us three responses or approaches to life with a concluding prayer that gathers the three together. The two pronouns and two verbs with a “what” in the middle provide us with nothing except a “sell-out” speaker and a confused listener (i.e. me). If it’s despair then use the word. I can work with resignation and despair.
I’ve learned to hear it as a “dead-end” which makes the chalkboard’s sound all the more irritating. We are smart and educated here in the U.S. so how we can so glibly condense and nutshell our lives into two nameless pronouns and two verbs with no action with a “what” in the middle? Naming the “what” may very well lead us to a new direction or understanding in and of our lives. Heck, I may even learn what you’re talking about!
So, Niebuhr, prays with us, “God, give me the grace to accept with serenity, the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.”