A proud grandfather, one day I sat observing my 2 ½ year old grandson tackle a big puzzle. Pointing out the picture on the cover of the puzzle box, he told me, “Have to copy this!” He then proceeded to spread out all the pieces around and in front of him. Staring at each piece intently he matched the colors and contours to decide where it might fit, but promptly looked for a replacement if his original choice did not appear to mesh with the puzzle shaping up before him. Piece by piece, using alternate choices he proceeded to complete the entire puzzle “all by himself” as he proudly declared, clapping his hands.
Later, as this tableau played out in my head for hours, I could not help but think about the process and power of making personal choices that influence how we live out each moment of our life. For instance, from the time we wake up and get out of bed, perform our morning rituals of toilet/meditation/exercise and get dressed, grab a coffee/smoothie/bagel and drive or take public transport to our work place, for the most part we function in “auto mode,” making one choice after another “instinctively” or through “sheer habit”. Life is peachy for the most part.
Then along comes a road bump and our focus changes. A muscular spasm incapacitates the lower back, slipping on ice an ankle is sprained, or the doctor informs us of a serious ailment. This brings about a change in the choices we then learn to make, simply to get by. I often think of seniors or other persons facing ambulatory and other challenges and how reliant they are on others to provide them support, even for the basic functions that we take for granted. Have you ever felt the urgent need to use a washroom? What if you are unable to go, without assistance? Try and imagine the feeling of helplessness, frustration and mortification you might feel because incontinence is not a choice. Or, a debilitated senior longing for a thick, toasted and buttered slice of raisin bread who does not get a choice and has to swallow the force-fed tepid oatmeal slop that dribbles down the quivering chin.
We encounter homeless persons on our streets here in Canada. The irony is that even as their growing numbers become more conspicuous, we choose to not notice them. Some twenty years ago when I first saw a person sprawled outside Union Station, I was shocked that “this happens even here in Canada?” Now, one chooses to just step around them. Some people might think “This is the life they have chosen to live, so why should they expect others to bail them out”? True. Except not everyone may have made that choice, voluntarily. A young kid or a woman may have preferred to run away from an abusive environment and take their chances roughing it out than be abused relentlessly, with no respite in sight.
What choices does a young child forced into sweat-shop labor have? Or, a fifty-plus years old lady struggling to stay upright on her leaden feet inside a hot, overcrowded bus after a long day at work? She was probably up at the crack of dawn to prepare meals for the family before trekking halfway around the city to her office and now must return home in time to feed her impatient family. What goes through her mind when she watches giggling young girls pass by in fancy cars overflowing with designer shopping bags of extravagant merchandise? What choices is she left with, other than to continue the drudgery until she can claim her pension and hope that her kids might do better and give her a comfortable retired life?
People around the world are being bombed, strafed, gassed or shot at and literally watch their young kids die of starvation, disease, drowning while trying to escape or worse, while they remain helpless spectators. Have you ever stayed up all night trying to monitor your child’s fever? One prays, calls on all the Gods beyond even one’s own religious belief to help provide succour to our kid. Now, imagine the plight of those godforsaken parents without any means to comfort the traumatized children wasting away before their eyes. These poor souls did not make the choices forced on them by political shenanigans. Yet, when they do try and choose a “better future for their kids” or simply “a life” (not even a “better quality of life” that most newcomers to Canada seek, for instance) the refugees’ choices are questioned and reviled.
As stated in the opening lines of this blog, we make choices every minute of each day. We have to make a choice now to stop getting sucked in to the toxic rhetoric of hatred, suspicion and fear being generated around us. Said the famous poet Kahlil Gibran, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.”
Back in 1985, top performers came together as We Are The World and sang “… There’s a choice we are making …. We are saving our own lives …” This remains true three decades later.