Sunday, 26 October 2008

Not of our Choosing

I have been thinking a good deal about choice lately, how important it is to recognise what choices we are making with regard to our ethics and our behaviour because, as those choices accumulate, they shape the person we become.

But there are other ways in which the notion of choice is much less clear-cut. Politicians and others talk a great deal, for example, about choice in education and medical care, as though choice were an equal-access opportunity. Questions of choice become more complicated still in situations that are not dependent on wealth or health but on quirks of fate or luck.

Losing a job you like because the company collapses; not having the marriage or career you expected; not having the child you've longed for since you were a child yourself; buying a house in the wrong suburb at the wrong time; having a major crisis of faith; losing a beloved person far too early; experiencing betrayal: the list can be endless - and endlessly unfair!

There is no worst here. When is come to suffering, comparisons are totally useless. Each serious loss, disappointment or sorrow is felt acutely. Knowing that others may have worse sorrows brings little or no comfort.

It is impossible to offer a simple formula for these situations, yet I am confident that talking about what we are feeling is almost always much better than avoiding it. Burying a sorrow in a mountain of work or at the bottom of a glass is tempting, but it gives the wound no chance to heal. It also means there is no chance to gain a little insight and compassion, or to receive the kindness that others can give you.

It takes courage to speak frankly about our toughest griefs. It takes more courage still to accept the comfort of others, especially when that's often clumsy and inadequate. Yet, the truth is we human beings are social creatures, and while talking about our sorrows cannot change them, it re-establishes a crucial sense of connection and almost always brings glimpses of relief.

Some people benefit from confiding in the people closest to them, others from talking to a professional, while many others find that their greatest support comes from listening as well as talking to people in the same situation as themselves.

Soul baring of this kind is not the same as friendly chats. It requires facing raw truths and building some acceptance, at least of what cannot be changed. Sometimes a different idea of 'choice' may emerge and even unexpected sets of possibilities.

But first there needs to be honest grieving for the old reality or lost dreams. Recovery from any kind of serious setback is usually patchy. Patience as well as time is needed. Yet even the toughest of situations can yield up moments of kindness and relief if we let them. It's kindness that can sustain and restore trust: not trust that life will be as we once hoped, but trust that life is nevertheless worth living - and that our own crumpled version of it remains precious and unique.

I write this piece acknowledging that I have been 'to hell and back' and now immensely enjoy the road I am travelling along with an inner peace and appreciation and love for all the people who helped me along the way.

Our Journey Begins

Sometimes Darkness Engulfs Us

There Is Always Light At The End Of The Tunnel

I took these photos while barging in Eastern France in June 2008; three glorious weeks, one of the most relaxing holidays I have ever experienced.


Anonymous said...

You have talked (or rather written) a lot of sense here and given us good examples of choices and 'bad choices' or unavoidable 'choices'. Your 'barging photos' go well with this piece, too- with the 'light at the end of the tunnel'.

McMGrad89 said...

What a great illustration of your point with your barge photos. I can so relate to many things you mention, and NO it is no comfort to know others have gone through what I have gone through before me. I am usually wanting a listening ear, not to affirm my feelings of grief or whatever, but just be a bucket to pour my feelings in. At those times I am looking someone who, like Mitch McDeere described in The Firm, is like a ship out at sea that will never reach its port. They will never mention what I say to anyone.

Jan said...

This piece was immensely moving to me. It contains so many truths, so many is very, very profound. How I thank you for writing it. I even printed it out and shared it with my husband, who was also deeply moved. Your post puts into words many, many of the feelings and thoughts that I've had in the last 7 months, and many of the insights that would have been helpful to me if I'd figured them out. And then the photos ......also wonderful. Thank you so much!

Living Balanced said...

I definitely have experienced the benefits of talking to friends who have already gone through the same struggles I am dealing with. I find comfort in knowing that there really is light at the end of the tunnel.

avtcoach said...

For me it is also a spiritual connection that I seek. My theology does not say that my situation can be changed, I agree it takes time, but I can know that I am not alone, I can see God in the people around me who can lift me up and I can learn gratitude and peace even in the midst of the darkness. With a spiritual connection that dark tunnel can still be as dark as night but maybe a feeling of hope in the darkness is possible rather than abandonment. I have to say that I have not had a deep deep tragedy in my life. I do not know what that feels like. I would hope that I could be a light for someone else and walk along side them in thier darkness. Very profound post today!

Fly Girl said...

While some people make choices, others (mostly children) have life's ups and downs foisted upon them. I feel for the children in the world who didn't ask for the circumstances they were given. I pray that they make it through their own personal traumas and become happy, healthy adults.

I really like your barge photos and the analogy you created. I think seeing that light - having hope - is what keeps people moving on.

JenX67 said...

I am starting to look forward to your next post while I'm still in the middle of reading the current one! I connect with you on the road to hell and back. I have walked that path. The song, "I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked" ( ) along with lyrics to Don Henley's My Thanksgiving pretty much sum up how I feel about it. In fact, now that I think about it, I think I'll use the Henley lyrics on my November masthead.

Here is a portion:

Here in this fragmented world,
I still believe
In learning how to give love, and how to receive it
And I would not be among those who abuse this privilege
Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge - D. Henley

Caroline said...

What a beautiful post. So much insight to share. Our journey in life is not always easy (if it were, would we truly know happiness?). Getting through the dark times make us believe in the light...