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.