The Great & Terrible Beauty of Choosing

My father and I are early risers, disciplined creatures, very much attuned and accustomed to moving in habitual rhythms. We crave the sureness of routine, the comfort of crossing and re-crossing old paths like figure skaters. At twenty-three, I feel myself slipping into his routine; his penchant for a cathedral of soft silence, his adherence to preserving the sanctity of a simple pleasure, his affinity for French roast and words.

Every morning, he drinks coffee and reads the paper with our golden retriever, Tucker, loyally curled around his feet. From the time I was little, there was always something magical about this, about witnessing the sun gently shoo the last shards of darkness from the sky. It’s a fleeting and sacred feeling; as if one is alone inside a beautifully quiet church but still fully aware of the fact that just on the other side of the stained glass windows, the world is all bustle and noise.

To this day, I do my best writing in the morning over cups of obsidian coffee. Just a pen and my notebook. No technology, no music. In this tiny space (an hour out of my day that is otherwise filled with stress and errands and things I absolutely must do) I realize how much I like to be in this world. Everything is so unobstructed, so unclouded; I can see that there is an abundance of goodness and joy still left be had. I have learned to cherish those sixty minutes because so often it seems they are my only respite from the milieu of negativity that has somehow permeated humanity’s hearts and minds.

I do not write from a place of naiveté, idealism or literary romanticism that so often guided my views and my dreams as a child. I do not claim to be an expert in the affairs of government or the complexities of politics. I am simply a young woman growing up (well, trying to) in an imperfect world. A world engulfed by anger, pain and fear (the driving and arguably most saturating emotions of the human race aside from love).

How exhausting it is for me to make a daily trudge through the mire of our mindless disdain and disrespect for one another. Each day it seems to grow through social media, spreading through our careless words and pointless hatred, as malignant as cancer. How do we begin to pinpoint the moment we became so embittered, so quick to proclaim that all is lost? Why do we lapse into hopelessness?

Because living is the most difficult venture. Because we are incredibly flawed and fragile beings. Because we are afraid of that grey space between clearly decipherable black and white. Because we are constantly endeavoring to prepare for uncertain futures. Because we doubt, we question, we give into cynicism. That is who we are. It is embedded in the trenches of our souls.

And yet.

These are all excuses. Beautiful, tragic excuses.

How good we are at complaining (myself, included). It’s so unintentional, so effortless, a natural talent we all seem to have acquired. In light of the past week, it has come to seem so lazy to me. Just the act of it demands a lack of engagement with the world, a lack of appreciation and gratitude. We seem to find some strange brand of comfort in mutual suffering, in shared disgust, in our intertwined narratives of disappointment. My most beloved author, Jonathan Safran Foer, confronts the conundrum of the human proclivity for self-pity in his most recent novel, Here I Am. He writes, “Our stories are so fundamental to us that it’s easy to forget that we choose them.”

How empowering and how challenging it is to have a choice. To make a decision. This morning, as coffee scalds my tongue I can’t help but think about how everything we say, everything we believe, every story we tell ourselves is a choice. How we approach each day, each person and each moment is a choice. In my limited experience on this Earth, I have come to see that there are so many opportunities to find redeemable, pure things even in the midst of our damaged, struggling world.

To be frank, I was not always so convinced of this. Cyncism coagulates the blood in my veins. I doubt the motives and integrity of others. My trust is hard won and easily lost. I have to actively make the decision to fight these natural inclinations. I know firsthand how hard it is to have faith in humanity’s goodness because it is not stable. Because it is not always “deserving.” Because it trips and falters and loses to sin so often. Because to have faith in spite of these shortcomings, requires such a consistent and constant choice.

I want to endeavor to be clear in my life, to be transparent and take ownership of the choices I have made and will continue to make. I do not believe in condemning a human being for their personal opinions. I do not believe in shaming those who have made different choices than I have. I do not believe in bringing further division into our world. I believe in the gift of living in a country where I have choices to make. I believe in striving to be intentional, compassionate and honest. I believe in promoting hope even when I am pressured to take refuge in the shadows of negativity. I believe that the challenges of life will carve me into a kinder, more humble human being and that I am better for them. I believe in choosing to rise each morning with an eager, open heart, ready to spread joy and laughter and acceptance to my fellow humans who I know are just as desperate for those things as I am.

These are my choices and I hope to do right by them.

I wish you the resolve to do right by yours.

And remember, to not make a choice is also to make a choice

– Whit