It hadn’t happened in a long, long time. That tightening of the chest. That feeling of being crushed by the people around me. Not by their bodies, but by their words.
I went through a period of making a lot of wrong choices, one woman said, sincerely, sadly.
Then there was a gabbered explanation, the pieces of it spurted up with their accompanying emotion, yoked together by our understanding of life and its circuitous ways. Also sincere. Also sad.
The fire in my chest leapt higher; nausea, a slight presence demanding attention. At the least, I could excuse myself and go the ladies’ room.
I could leave, I knew, but I could never open my mouth.
A group of women discussing the choices they have made in their lives.
And how those choices possibly reflected their relationship with God.
All I could think was, I’m so jealous.
As I have been at other times in my life.
Listening to others as they discussed tripping on something in life, falling flat. Laughing. Putting it in its place on the shelf of their life, alongside other random events.
Were I to ever trip and fall flat in life, this event would be followed by years devoted to a lesson on what my nose had encountered in the fall and how it relates to the turning of the Earth on her axis. This ant, you see, Julia, is what makes existence possible.
The eyes of the women scanned the group, around and around, searching for the next one to speak.
I wasn’t the only one left.
It didn’t have to be me.
Choices? How I would love to have the chance to make a choice in my life. You guys are all so lucky.
And then I went on to tell the story of how for years and years, over a decade, I was urged to write about my “experiences.” And my overwhelming reaction was, I really don’t want to do this, it will just sound crazy. Crazy, I tell you.
But I did try. I tried different formats. Different approaches.
All short lived.
And then I was told that I had only a few months to live.
(And to think that I actually believed the doctors this time.)
And while I thought it over, I realized that I didn’t want to be bored by illness. So I started this blog.
And I began writing.
It’ll be over soon, I reasoned. So no one could really take offense at what I wrote and bring it back home to me.
I’d be gone.
(Ah, the hope, the tender expectation.)
And as I looked up and faced the group, I almost shouted, This is the length God would go to just to get me to write?
And they became the Greek chorus. They came together, and shouted back their assent.
And it came to me then that perhaps it wasn’t that I was so different from the others, just that I had a different view of things.
I realized that I just didn’t see choices as they did.
What is a wrong choice, after all?
The only thing that makes it wrong, in the long run, is that we don’t like the circumstances that arise from it.
We don’t like being hit by our husband.
Or having our job compromised by a competitive co-worker.
Or watching the politician we voted for, we believed in, turn and walk away from his job, and leave us with the mess he promised to clean up.
Yes, we choose.
And yes, there are days we look back and and think, perhaps if I had gone the other way.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.
It’s always there. Regret.
But just think of the ant your nose met one day as you lay smashed against the sidewalk.
Think of the rose bush that you planted on the day that you found out your house was no longer worth even the amount you bought it for.
For me, these aren’t really wrong decisions.
For me, the opposite of right isn’t wrong.
The right path, for me, is the one where you do everything right. You go to church. Sing the hymns. Wash all the dishes before bedtime. Keep the supply cabinet at work neatly sorted. You know, the path of the good girl (or boy, for those of you of that persuasion).
The left path is the one where you trip and fall; where your elbow scrapes along the building because the path has become so tight. It’s the realm of the unseen.
The way of miracles.
It is the realm of The Twilight Zone, where the unexpected is what you sit down to dinner with, and memories are what you use to navigate.
It’s the realization that the wind against your back isn’t just random; instead, it’s that which is blowing the dust in front of you into the path that you will follow.
What seems to be a wrong choice is really just a God-ordered route.
And, yes, it can get very rough.
But I have found that the result of accomplishing such a route, such a choice, is a lofty beauty and grace. It comes from finding God even in the ant crawling on the sidewalk under my nose. On the right path, we often do not recognize God there. We see ourselves, our achievements. Our order. Our goodness.
But on the left path, the path of chaos and echoes, we find our balance and our serenity. If we don’t, we may not get through the challenge.
The right path is the buying of a bracelet from a jewelry store. Easy and fine.
The left path is working at a stone until we reveal the gem that lies deep within.
Difficult. Arduous. Dirty.
But if we survive, then we have brought with us into our lives a fulfilling divinity.
Or as John of the Cross once wrote, “Where there is no love, put love – and you will find love.”