I am a decisive person. I do not dither, nor do I waste time second-guessing myself. I have very little patience for those who can't make up their minds about what to order for dinner, which movie to see and which outfit to wear for a date. I'm equally intolerant even when the dithering is about a weighty decision. I understand that (hopefully) we'll only buy one wedding dress in this lifetime, but that doesn't justify spending three months trying on 300 dresses to make the decision. There is just no need to try on 300 of anything. Or to look at 1100 paint samples for the kitchen walls, or to take days to determine whether acting or sculpture is our elective choice. As I've written about before, there is no such thing as a perfect choice. We do the best we can with the information at hand; it’s an imperfect system that results in imperfect choices. But it's the best we can do.
hy am I contemplating decisions today? Well, I'm finishing up an installment in Karen Marie Moning's Highlander series. I must say that I find it almost inconceivable (I associate the slightly slobbery voice of Wallace Shawn in the Princess Bride with this word) that the mind that brought forth Jerricho Barrons and Mac Lane also wrote these tales of time travel. Not that the Highlander books aren't good—they are. But they are not nearly as complex and deep as the Fever series, which includes some of the best fantasy ever written, IMHO.
Anyhoo, in The Highlander's Touch, the heroine, Lisa, has to make a big decision—whether to stay in the 14th century with her Highlander love, or return to the 21st century to be with her dying mother. Tough choice. I'm pretty sure I know what I'd do, but then, I wasn't a huge fan of my maternal DNA donor, as you know. But Lisa is completely flummoxed by the choice, so much so that she risks incurring the wrath of the Faerie Queen as she vacillates between the 14th and 21st centuries. How to choose? How do we know which is the right choice?
While I posit that few of us are faced with the kind of decision that Lisa had to make, most of us deal with difficult choices all the time. I'm always astounded when I stop to think about how many decisions I make in a day – let alone in a week, a month or a year. Decisions about what to eat and what to cook; what to wear and what to buy to wear; what to say to our kids when they transgress and what to say when they are heartbroken. We make decisions about which books to read, which people to date, which jobs to take, which hobbies to pursue, and with whom we spend our free time. We choose between political parties and among various causes and initiatives to support. We choose whether to reproduce or to adopt or to forgo kids altogether. We choose where to live and whether to use paper or plastic, cash or credit, gas or diesel.
We make hundreds of choices without giving any of them too much thought, and then we agonize over other decisions. Choice is a privilege, and it's often one we take for granted. Some of us have the luxury of time to weigh each decision carefully, but it's not clear that those who take longer make better choices. I’ve seen those wedding pictures—and trust that you have also wondered how the winner triumphed over the other 299 choices.
How do we know we've made a good decision? Well, I can’t decide—just kidding. I'm a big believer in the Biblical concept that, ‘by their fruits you will know them’. A good choice will bear good fruits—serenity, peace, and a sense of well-being. A bad choice is a lot like a bad meal—it might feel all right going down, but then it repeats itself ad nauseam (pun intended) after the fact. A good choice is one where we don't spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror at what might have been. We make the choice and then move on, secure in the knowledge that it was a good – or even just a good enough— move.
Sometimes the fruits are not apparent for a long time after the decision is made. When it was time to choose a high school for our boys, my husband and I looked at it from every angle. Did we choose well? Talk to me in about three years and I'll let you know. It feels mostly good now, but we'll see whether our sons grow up to be the kind of men with whom we want to associate – or even associate with us. I hope so with every fiber of my being, but I won't know for a while still. Thank heavens for the fruits of the grape vine while we “enjoy” the journey.
Choices and decisions are hard. But what would be harder would be not to have any say at all about our destiny. The biggest thing about the choices we make is that they are ours. We make them and we own them. And like Lisa, we live with the consequences of our decisions, big and small. Without the time travel, of course, but with the same surety of a path well chosen.