Several years ago, for our 20th anniversary, My Sweet and I went to Maui. It quickly became one of my favourite places and I have longed to go back ever since.
To say it was beautiful is an understatement. The temperature was perfect, the air fragrant, and the beaches seemed endless. Every day was an adventure, discovering a new little piece of the island.
One afternoon we visited a remote area called ‘Ahihi-Kina’u Natural Area Reserve. It’s a stunning part of the island where Maui’s last lava flow (in 1970) spilled all the way to the water. There were hardly any other people there, likely because the ‘beach’ is primarily a jagged obstacle course of razor-sharp lava rock.
Not to be deterred by a little challenge, we made our way carefully over the rocks to explore the pools of water left by the receding tide. We were not disappointed.
While we watched the variety of little striped and coloured fishes swimming about in the tidal pools we saw something truly remarkable.
Tiny fish were leaping from pool to pool. We were transfixed by the sight. Those little fish, less than 3” in length were hurtling themselves from one pool several feet into a nearby pool. They never missed and I have no idea how they knew which direction to go.
I was thinking about those fish again the other day, thinking about the way they leaped into uncertainty. Not knowing when they took off from the water whether they would land safely or be shredded on the sharp lava rock.
Should I stay or should I go?
I have been watching my youngest son struggle with a decision. Stay or go? Stick with the relative safety of the known or leap into the unknown? It’s difficult to watch him wrestle with his dilemma, harder still to let him make the choice on his own without my advice (interference?).
I’m probably not the best one to give him advice anyway. I still wrestle with making decisions. I like the idea of living outside of my comfort zone, taking risks, and trying new things. But it’s scary out there, outside of my comfort zone and I’m not good with fear.
Neither am I good with not trying and letting fear or uncertainty dictate the direction I go.
And so I push myself to try new things, to push past my fears.
When my boys were small I never wanted my fears to become their fears. I tried to teach them to be safe, to evaluate the possible risks, but then decide – stay or go? Go through or go around? Hang on or let go? I like to think that’s one of the lessons I taught them that I got right.
I look back at some of the choices I’ve made and I know that many of the decisions I made were dictated by fear. In my late teens, I had the opportunity to live in Europe. We had family there who had offered me a place to live and an employer here who was willing to arrange a job for me there.
I didn’t go. I was afraid of going somewhere I couldn’t speak the language, afraid of living with people I hardly knew. Who knows how my life would look now if I had made a different decision?
Was it a bad decision because I missed an opportunity? Was it a good decision even though I allowed my fear of the unknown to tip the scales? Hard to say.
There’s a wonderful TED talk by a woman named Heather Lanier that talks about the idea that life is a series of choices and consequences and we try to judge the outcome of a choice as being good or bad. But can we ever know that the choice we made is truly good or truly bad?
I don’t think so.
Choose your own adventure
I’m reminded of a series of popular books from my childhood – choose your own adventure books. You were the main character of the story, caught up in some wild adventure and after several pages you’d come to a stopping point where you had to make a choice – turn to page 53 if you jump off the cliff or turn to page 27 if you swing across the gorge on a hanging vine. You made your decision, turned to the appropriate page, and carried on with the story dealing with the consequences of the choice you made.
The best part of those books, though, was that if your choice was apparently disastrous (sometimes you’d choose the vine which broke midway over the gorge and…well…you died) you could flip back a few pages and make a new choice.
Sometimes the only direction we can go is forward. Sometimes we need to backtrack and re-evaluate.
I tell my son that he’s not a tree.
And he rolls his eyes at me and says, “I know Mom. I can move.”
Apparently he’s heard that pearl of wisdom more than once. He knows if he decides to go and things don’t work out, he’s not stuck. He still has a choice.
It’s easy when things turn out well, but it can be hard when you’ve made a choice and the consequences are painful. But you still have a choice.
You can lie, bleeding on the sharp rocks of failure gasping for breath. Or you can flip yourself into the nearest pool, catch your breath, and try again.
Good or bad?
Hard to say.