Robert Frost, in the last verse of “The Road Not Taken”
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
It deals with my favorite philosophical question: CHOICE. What choices do we have and what do we do with those choices? We can ponder on endlessly how much of life is predetermined, how we are limited by heredity, intellect, social status, environment, economics. That is not the issue here; nor do I believe that it is important. However limited the choices, what matters is what we do with the choices we have.
Victor Franki survived the death camps of World War II to write in man’s search for meaning; “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms –to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
I believe we have a great deal of choice; that most of us do not make most of these choices and that we tend to live our lives based on other people’s decisions and expectations. I believe that too often we lack the courage to act on our decisions. Not to decide is to decide. I believe this freedom to choose is one of the most important aspects of our lives, and that to act responsibly on those choices determines the success or failure of our lives.
It is important to differentiate between freedom and license. Make no mistake- this is not the concept of “if it feels good, do it.” All choice combines freedom with responsibility; they are inseparable. We pay a price for all our decisions and our indecisions, but we have the individual freedom to determine for ourselves when the price is too high.
Each day brings new opportunities for choice. Each day brings countless decisions to be made. I submit that all choices matter and that the potential for a better life is all around us. It is by the choices we make –the large, the small, the important, and the seemingly trivial, that we determine who we are and the quality of our lives. I believe we become the sum of our choices. Let’s talk about choice and some of the areas in which we can exercise our freedom to choose.
We can choose the living God. Erich Fromm said: “All living things seek the sunshine.” Therefore, the natural condition is to seek life and the life-giving force. You can, if you so choose, move into the shadows, you can deny the sunshine; you can curse God and die. Your denial does not diminish the sunshine, it changes you. Remember Joshua: “Choose you this day whom you will serve. “The New Testament speaks of Mary and Martha. When Martha complained because Mary did not help her in the kitchen, Christ said: “for Mary has chosen the good part.” Choose the sunshine.
We can choose love. We can decide who matters in our life; we can nurture the relationships we care about. We can make time for the people we love. We can find new people to love. I believe good, lasting relationships require willing commitments by the people involved. You can choose to have more love in your life.
We can choose health –both mental and physical. Again, we choose not from our limitations, but from the freedom we do have. We can choose not to abuse our bodies, how we spend our days. We can choose not to whine about imagined aches and pains. Choose good health.
We can choose beauty. You can decide to include beauty in your life. For me, each day includes the simple pleasure: fresh flowers, light through stained glass, wine in stemmed crystal, music, candlelight, a little poetry. Why not? They are easy to come by –clichés really. Clichés that got that way because they gave other people pleasure too. Choose your own beauty.
We can choose to be happy. If you are unhappy, it is your fault. It is your responsibility, no one else’s. If you permit some one to make you unhappy, you choose to do so. I believe we are most influenced by other people in this area, only you know what makes you happiest. Choose to be happy.
We can choose to have fun, to be spontaneous. I have a small plaque by my bed which reads: “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” It isn’t. Let’s choose to fly more kites, buy more balloons, give more daisies, go barefoot more often, look for more seashells, and sing in the car. Let’s serve more red onion sandwiches with icy cold beer. Let’s hold hands more often. Choose fun.
We can choose to dream. In the words from South Pacific, “if you do not have a dream, how you going to have a dream come true?” Dream your own dream.
I would persuade you to make choices and have the courage to act on these choices. Remember that choice means to select the best part, to discard that which is not. I would persuade you to make deletions in your life. If someone consistently makes you uncomfortable or unhappy, why are they part of your life? If you don’t like the movie you are watching, why don’t you leave it? You do not have to leave a tip –if the service is poor, do you really care what a surly waiter thinks of you? You don’t have to answer the phone because it is ringing. If you don’t like your life, are you looking for ways to make it better?
Choose what you want in your life and what you do not. Have you ever made a list of the things that make your life better and the things that detract from it? I have made some deletions in my life. I no longer make rooms for: plastic flowers, wine in paper cups, chronically unhappy people, self-service gas stations, restaurant meals that cost more than $50 each. I haven’t missed any of them. Their deletion leaves more time for things that matter. I do not invite people to my home I do not really want to see. I attend parties and give presents because I want to –not out of obligation or duty. It is more honest and in the end, it is easier.
All choices involve responsibility for those choices. We have to pay our dues. I believe in choice for myself. I believe in choice for other people. I believe we have the right and the freedom to make our own decisions –not from selfish motivations, but from our own uniqueness and integrity. We become the sum of our choices. It is your choice…….remember the scriptures: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life”