For the next few months, this blog will occasionally look at the concept of choice. It is true that “Life is a sum of all your choices.” But do we even realize that every response involves a choice, that we always have a choice?
THE WEIGHT OF A SINGLE CHOICE
Just days after the December 2 shooting in San Bernardino, California, I chatted for a few minutes with a colleague about what we knew of the shooting suspects as well as the tragedy itself. During our conversation, it became evident that the colleague believed differently than I did about the implications of the tragedy. Quickly, the idea was introduced that because the shooters were “of that religion” which taught extremism and terrorist violence against the West, we needed to be aware of all of “them” who believed this way.
After clearing my head, I vehemently shared that I didn’t feel that same way and a heaviness of distance and difference brought an awkwardness that settled in on our conversation. Discussion ended and we moved into the work of the day. Although we haven’t brought the conversation or topic up again, its weight haunts my thoughts. It pushes me to reflect on other conversations in my life which resonate with the force of choice, and the option to choose one path. . . or another.
Twenty years ago, I listened to the memories of a Hungarian colleague’s father who had been a pastor for the Hungarian Reformed Church during the early years of communism. Not only had his church been taken from him during early years of the communist regime, but because he chose to stay firmly rooted in the traditions of his faith, he was regularly taken away for “questioning” over twenty-year period.
Elisabet’s memories of her father’s journeys into dark and dismal places weighted by bruising, pain, and scars rest juxtaposed against his possible choice of a life lived in comfort and compliance. The only consequence to that choice would be his integrity. His commitment to who he was called to be witnesses to his daily determination to remain true to who he was.
Ten years ago, in a small Sicilian village along the Mediterranean Sea, I learned about young Ricardo as we studied English together. His father was the owner of the town’s lucrative hardware store, but Ricardo spoke freely of wanting to move to England to play guitar in a rock band. He had a friend in London, and he was learning English so one day he would be able to earn a wage during the day and follow his passion as a band member at night.
Rural and isolated, our small village seemed an orderly and warm community; as a newcomer, I was puzzled at his desire to leave such a naturally beautiful place. Yet, hesitantly, after a month of studying and speaking together, he shared his deeper motivation: his father was forced monthly to pay the “pizzo” (bribe) to the mafia for protection. Not meeting my eyes, he spoke quietly of his frustration and desire to get away from this future. Burdened, yet determined, Ricardo chose to push away the life of his parents to choose his direction.
Yesterday, I was a teacher watching a student struggle to name the pain that caused all the anger and frustration that radiated from his core. Accepting a constant stream of self-harming drugs and chemicals, he had decided that his life offered little to the world. His predicament had me questioning. What decisions were made that impact the life of this teenager? How does such hatred live unresolved, festering for years? Why is the burden of living in anger and hatred easier to bear than living in love and hope? Why does he choose to escape rather than find the will to push forward? What choices has he made that offered such an impossible load to carry?
Today and every day, I personally live with many questions and few answers. The direction of my life, this life, is a daily choice, a choice to live with conviction and a clarity viewed only through my Father’s eyes. The force of my choices offers the opportunity to challenge values and identify beliefs; these self-same choices can define and form my deepest pain and inner agony.
Each choice we make, whether during a casual conversation on a challenging topic, or while suffering the consequences of a strong religious conviction, or carrying out a personal pledge, or living with seemingly failed life, breathes the essence of being alive. The results and their consequences, offer weight which grounds or drowns our actual existence. Little escapes the pull of these implications. I pray to God that my decisions offer homage to the Maker of all Things and the Giver of All Life.