In my younger days, I didn’t understand the freedom of choice. In my younger days, I wasn’t good at the “like water on a duck’s back” thing. But then, I wasn’t a duck. I’m still not a duck, but I’ve learned to quack less and just let the water run off instead of splashing and gnashing as human nature tempts me to do.
Ducks are good at that. Their feathers are designed to shed water instead of absorbing it, or else they’d be drowning like a sewer rat instead of gliding like a duck. While the down on their bellies insulates, it’s the feathers that shed the water.
I think we can learn to float through life’s ripples if we recognize a few things. We can fight the tide or ride the waves. While we often don’t have a say in what life hands us, we can still choose our response.
There was a professor I had in Freshmen English 101. He gave us a writing assignment one day in early July, and I still remember it forty years later.
Standing in front of the class he told us, “We are about to celebrate the birth of America this weekend. We call our country a free country. We say that we live in a free world. We say this is a democracy, and we are free to choose what we do. Many others do not have the opportunities you have. However, in spite of your opportunities, there are many choices you have not been able to make.”
Holding up his fingers, he listed several: “where you were born; where you went to school; your parents. Our country does not give you a choice in attending school. You don’t choose your textbooks, and many times, you can’t choose your teachers. So how, I ask you, can you say that you have freedom of choice?”
Prove to me that you have freedom of choice when you have not had control over your heritage, your country, or the year of your birth. Answer the question in 500 words or less, and you’re free to go.”
I think about that assignment every July 4th, and I know I answered correctly.
I thought about that question again recently when Dave and I attended a foster parenting class for re-certification. We listened to a former foster child share his experiences growing up in a foster home. Removed from his family as an infant, he experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse for years. He made some choices that veered him off a straight course; then he decided to make different choices that would lead him in the right direction.
This gentleman is where he is today because of those choices. He’s working with other foster kids, helping them find their way when they become of age. I wonder how many times during his discourse I heard him say, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do with it.”
It’s true. I know that’s easy for me to say when I haven’t suffered like so many people have, not only in other countries but in our country as well.
I’m not here to tell you that I do it all right or that my 90% responses have always taken me in the right direction. But I know that the choices I make today will affect where I will be heading tomorrow. Those choices, in turn, will affect my destination.
I know that because I’ve experienced it. I know that in part because I’ve been the brunt of bitterness that has sprouted from the responses of others who have been wronged. I know that because I reckon with the fact that no one can make me do or not do something unless I make the choice to allow them.
The other evening during a kid’s class, one child said to me, “She made me so mad.”
“Oh no she didn’t,” I countered. “You made the choice to get mad. Nobody makes you get mad but you.”
She’s still pondering on that one, but one day she’ll figure out that I am right.
It’s true. I can let the anger and bitterness and hate run off my back or I can harbor a grudge and let it grow, infecting those around me. I might not have a choice on what has happened to me, but I do have a choice in how I respond.
No, I didn’t get to choose my family or my community; I didn’t get to choose the church in which I was raised or the country of my residence. But what I do with who I am, that is my choice.
Life isn’t fair. All things are not equal. Children are born into homes where they are unwanted at most and harmed at worst. They have no control over what happens to them as infants, toddlers, and children. That’s the 10%. There’s still another 90% out there that can make a difference as we grow older and mature.
So on this 4th of July, don’t forget to remember that our country might give you freedom, but you are the one who can live it every day.
On this 4th of July, remember that while you can’t choose the consequences of your choices, you can still make those choices. Because what you do with who you are, that is your choice.
Sometimes it has helped me to think about where I want to be a year from now; then I take the steps necessary now to get me there then. ‘Trouble is, most of us don’t take the time to think about where we want to be then. We’re so busy fighting the waves now that we never set our eyes on the horizon.
No matter what life has dealt me, I still get to choose how I respond. I get to choose what I will say and what I will do. And that is a freedom that no one, ever, can take from me.