Last month on the post calvin, we offered advice to readers. This month, I’m asking for it.
In her December 2018 post, Abby concluded her piece by writing, “So may you choose, too—whatever it may be. May you choose.”
I have never been good at choosing. I retain a vivid memory of sitting one one of those mirror-benches in the cluttered shoe department of Nordstrom Rack with my Nana and Poppop at age twelve, agonizing over three pairs of shoes, attempting to choose which one to wear to my cousin’s wedding. I remember arguing that pumpkin-colored shoes were more “me.”
I don’t know exactly what “me” means these days. I’m learning that my past passions need not dictate my future fulfillment and that whole facets of my personality have been maintained more for the sake of continuity than authenticity. I’m shedding the old notion of “me” and looking around for what else I can be. This feels like the first time in my life, untethered from a rigid school and teaching schedule, that I’ve had the space to not just theoretically acknowledge but viscerally feel the reality that I am solely responsible for making my life something I can hold up to the light and be proud of.
“May you choose.”
This past Monday, I had lunch with a colleague who will be moving to San Francisco with her partner this summer and pursuing her dream of confecting sweet experiences as a teacher and newly minted pastry chef. She looked me in the eyes and told me she had such “clarity” about the move.
My dear friend Brooke has known she wanted to be a doctor since high school. I’m in awe of how confidently she regularly signs away years of her life at a time: four years studying health in undergrad, four years of med school in Detroit, five years in Indianapolis learning to suture children back together as a pediatric emergency doctor. Focused on the goal. Never batting an eyelash.
Last month, I spoke with my Grandpa on the phone. He stepped out of my Grandma’s hospice room to take the call. A disease rendering my Grandma’s digestive tract nearly impassible slowly whittled her down to something fragile. Grandpa told me that he was trying not to look at her and that he preferred to think instead back to their dating days sixty years before. I could hear him recollect them through the phone—a distant rosiness perfuming his voice.
I recently attended my favorite annual event in Seattle: the Moisture Festival. A month-long romp held in the polychromatic palladium of a local brewery, this variety show festival offers an unforgettable hodge-podge of classically trained acrobats, charming clowns, dizzying jugglers, and men that unwrap Big Macs on parasol umbrellas. This year, though, one performer in particular captured my heart: Jason Victor Serinus.
Dressed in all black with the exception of a canary-yellow tie, Serinus was a petite man in his seventies. He was also a whistler. Serinus waxed with childlike excitement about his performances on bygone late night shows and his defining role as the voice of Woodstock in Charlie Brown. After the performance, I fought the urge to patronize him with the word “adorable.”
When he whistled, though, the world halted. Jason spoke of his love of classical music and of one opera song in particular that he said he would always regret not performing before the end of his career. He stood, arms held out like a harpist’s and whistled an aching, doleful, cascading song. It was like watching the final performance of a prima ballerina whose bound ankles have only a few revolutions left. Years and years of whistling distilled into one joyful, sorrowful melody.
I am perpetually impressed by people with clarity and conviction. People who live out a singular focus, who give themselves over completely, who pool decades-deep careers and relationships to float and smile back on.
So I ask you: how do you choose? I’m not asking rhetorically. How do you stare down the barrel of the next five years of your life, ten years of your life, rest of your life and not flinch? How do you stride down aisles and sign on dotted lines and finalize adoptions? How do you choose? At the risk of sounding dramatic, I’ve never wanted to know an answer to any question as desperately as I want to know this one.
How painstakingly do you plan, and how much do you just let life unfold before you?
When do you relentlessly pursue ambitious standards, and when do you recline contentedly and exhale “this is enough”?
When do you live urgently, and when do you practice patience?
How do you come to grips with the fact that you can do anything but not everything?
So, please, tell me how you choose. Share your moments of clarity and what they felt like. Give me the best choice you ever made and how you arrived at it. Tell me about the path you followed or the one you bushwhacked and why. Teach me the principles you decide by.
You can share your thoughts, a story, a quote, a book recommendation—whatever and however brief—here.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.