When I was in college, my motto was “Therefore Choose Life,” a phrase that comes from Deuteronomy 30:19 (“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live”). I was very much about helping people see that it will get better; that failing was not a reason to despair, that if you were afraid of something, then imagine the worst thing that would happen (if you did fail a class, for example,) and come up with scenarios about how to handle it. I spent a lot of time unofficially counseling my friends and roommates. They told me it helped.
When I taught writing at USC, I did a unit on suicide. It included Death of a Salesman, Richard Cory (both Paul Simon’s song and the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem it came from), and other pieces that I can’t remember, and we would discuss alternatives to suicide when things seemed bleak. Maybe this was because I had a friend in high school who committed suicide. [Just thinking about him now makes we teary. He was the first person who tried to introduce me to the wonders of Tolkien, but as a 12-year-old girl, I wasn’t going there.] I taught at USC when I was in my early twenties. By the time I was in my early thirties, my focus had expanded to love. God is Love. Love all things. Choose Life; Choose Love. And I tried to make that my central purpose in living. Having two fantastic children made it easy. Having a difficult marriage made it hard. I read as much as I could and even focused my Ph.D. on love and social justice in literature.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties and out of my marriage that I think I really started to understand Love and Forgiveness. I again read as much as I could, I listened to lectures, I absorbed philosophies, and I tried to live what I believed. A challenge to be sure, as I am inherently a reactive person. I don’t get mad very often, but I get very frustrated when things don’t go right, or when people are idiots. And people are often idiots. I have very little patience with people who are illogical or make crazy choices. And of course, that’s choices that I think are crazy. 😉 And I have little tolerance for people who are intolerant. So it has been with great interest that I have been observing myself these past few years move more and more into a place of love and acceptance. People are who they are. The world moves on and changes. And the universe is filled with possibilities.
I think that some of these personal changes really started to take place in 2011 when I dated two different men who helped me grow into the person I am hoping to become. The first gave me the book The Art of Possibility, which I think is a beautiful way of approaching life. It reflected back to me exactly how I feel about interacting with others, and it also illuminated that I make choices out of fear, something I wanted to stop doing. The second man gave me The Four Agreements which, while not astounding in its format, did help me understand that I do take things personally, and I do make assumptions. I hearkened back to that time in my life when I worked with others asking, “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” and thought that maybe I should start applying the wisdom to myself.
So I have been thinking lately about where I am now, at 53. How I try to lead with love, how I am not generally cynical, and how I, like Anne Frank (and despite the terrible things going on in the world), still want to think the best of people. The catchword of the 20-teens seems to be “mindfulness.” I make mindful decisions about my job, my eating, my friends, my shopping, and my social activities. At least I do the best I can. And underlying this mindfulness, I hope, is love. I believe that love is a powerful motivator and an effective healer, and that we should always try to make choices that bring more love into our lives.
I know this all sounds very ooh la la and corny, but it’s really what I believe. That the world is a place of love if we look for it. That our life choices can align with our spiritual beliefs. That we are all part of a community of love, especially if we surround ourselves with people who love us. As Joshua Fields Millburn says, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.” So true. Every day we have the opportunity to make choices. I Choose Life; I Choose Love.