Alternative

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Yep, Latin again! You’d think by now I would have been able to find alternatives…

It means to do something by turns or to have options, choices, possibilities. This is not nearly as easy as it seems, especially if you consider that alternative is not always the synonym of option. It involves interesting linguistic exercises based partially on the origin of the word from the “alter” (other) root so you can’t really say “the other alternative” because that would sound as “the other other thing”. Fun and games, huh?

Anyhoo, back to the meaning of the word, I was musing on the importance of having them. Alternatives, options, possibilities, choices. What you can live with and what you can’t leave without, to paraphrase a common expression. They seem to go hand in hand with culture, upbringing and, most especially, expectations and anticipations, already covered somewhere else in this blog.

It occurred to me that half of my perception of choices is related to my attitude towards life in general – optimistic, life is good and can be enjoyed. The other half of my perception is linked to my upbringing as an individual. My body, my soul, my spirit, my right, my heart, my choices.

Entitled, you might say, and so I couldn’t possibly understand what it feels to have no choice at all. But can we not? Imagine, at least, and try to understand, and try to change some of the status quo? Empathy is not so rare once you start looking for it, although good intentions can and have to be thought out better than the golden rule might imply – imposing one’s values on someone else never a good colonialist made

But there is another choice, if choice it can be called. If we are hit over the head with our vocation, what choice do we have? If a deity is apparent, if an ideology is enacted, if a person suddenly becomes the world, what choice is there? Whose is this body that I used to call mine? To whom does this soul answer to? Towards which ideal does my spirit fly? What right do I have other than serving? And what good is this heart if not as an object of toil in a very specific endeavour?

And yet we stand, we breathe, we fight and work and life goes on – reality as a choice… who’d a thunk it?

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Decision

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In the limbo… hang on a minute, I use this phrase without even knowing the roots of it, just the colloquial meaning… quick, Internet to the rescue… goodness, some Catholics really have too much time on their hands, and the Witnesses’ doctrine is quite merciful in a Gordian sort of way…

As I was saying, in the limbo that stretches from intent to action, choices are fighting it off with societal and environmental weapons to become winners. In other words, decisions. Choices are quite general, really, to begin with: to act or not to act. The more they are thought about, weighed and tumbled over in our minds, whittled in both numbers and generality, they start to become potentialities. And then we figure out the ones we can live with, rarely more than three, and we enter the realm of practical ethics. You can argue that intent has its place there too, it’s just that intent is a thought and no more, while decisions are a lot closer to action than most of us care to examine.

In a magical sort of way, decisions can only be defined at the precise moment of action, until then they remain choices. I am sure we can all think of a choice we had every intention of putting into practice that has been changed at the last possible moment, changing therefore the entire world with it. And when you think of it this way, it’s no wonder some are never making any decisions, remaining paralyzed at the choice level or alternating between possible choices until the very future is confused.

A soft spot of mine has always been for the choices that will become decisions. You know what I am talking about, for the theory above has a hole the size of Antarctica in it… or does it?

Let’s say my intent was to go to university – thanks, mum! The choices are many, but the decision has been made way, way before I even started to notice boys. The choices remain what they are, choices, but a streak of “happenings” make sure that most will never see daylight. A vocation. A teacher. A failure. Meant to be?

Between the time the decision was made, until the time the action was taken, five years. A long time in limbo for such an earthly thing as university, don’t you think? A bit far from the “magical” action that’s supposed to define a decision, isn’t it? And yet, who’s to tell that a decision doesn’t act like a rope between the boat of choice and the land of action? I could have changed my mind at any time… couldn’t I? Well, no, vocations don’t change easily, although they do allow several choices within. That teacher removed several of those remaining choices by his actions. And then I failed, so the first choice I had made was no longer available, leaving me with second best by default. Decision.

Resentful, disappointed, defensive, I was all three. My pride… ah, my pride was smarting! And then, discovery. I was meant for the second best. I would not have liked either the first or the third choice. I was now even closer to my vocation than I could ever have hoped. I had five years more to realize this. Decision.

And when I look back, I remember sitting by myself, waiting for the food to arrive and thinking, wishing, yearning for a particular boy…