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Monday, March 16, 2009

Choice vs. Luck

It scares me sometimes how little control we have over our own lives. Sure we get to make grand choices for ourselves – I want to go to this school or that school (if I get accepted); I want to live in this town instead of that town; I want to have kids; I want to make this for dinner; etc. But really, so much in our lives and so many of the things that shape us have little to do with anything we get to choose.

I often get stuck in this line of thought when I think about my son R. His birth defects really didn’t have anything to do with a choice that I made. Yes, my husband and I decided to have a baby, but that was the last real choice I had in the matter.

Random luck took over from there.

And luck couldn't care less about who I am or where I grew up and whether I'm a good person or a bad person or a mediocre person. Luck doesn't care about where I went to school or what town I live in or what I'm making for dinner. Ultimately a little bit of planning combined with a heaping helping of luck got me here because there are the things that you can't plan and don't plan. Like having a child with massive health problems.

I started thinking about luck and control and choices recently after my mom told me that my almost 18-year-old nephew is smoking. I know that there are worse things in life that smoking, but there are so many better choices too. Choices that say you care about yourself and your health. That you care about your body. That you care about the environment. That you are stronger than peer pressure. That you care about your family who wants nothing but the best for you.

It’s an individual choice that kids make when they are too young to really know the long-term implications of lighting up. Or of lung cancer. Or emphysema. But it’s a choice none the less. And each person gets to make that choice for themselves, regardless of what I think.

Maybe because I managed to not smoke (even though my father smoked two packs a day of filterless cigarettes), I have always had hopes that my niece and nephew would also choose not to smoke. Maybe because I managed to get out of the small town I grew up (even though the guidance counselor at my high school tried to convince my parents that I should NOT be allowed to go to college in Boston), I have always had hopes that my niece and nephew would do the same. A small town can be stifling.

I always had hoped that if I set a good example by not smoking, by not getting pregnant as a teenager, by going away to college, by moving to another state where there were good jobs to be had, that I would somehow influence them to have big dreams for themselves. I always hoped that if I talked to them like adults about the risks of pregnancy and smoking and the benefits of getting away, they too would avoid the negatives and shoot for the positives.

To be fair, there are benefits to staying in a small town near family. Maybe I need to let go of the part that thinks I can influence them when I live so far away. When my words are few and far between. Maybe I need to let go of the idea of what I think is right or that it matters. Or that somehow I failed them. Or that it was somehow my responsibility. It isn't. It's not.

I can only make choices for myself (and my kids, at least for a few more years). And even then, I suppose luck will still rear it's ugly head from time to time.

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