28 April 2011


I’m doing a lot of studying these days for a class that I’m teaching.  The class is about literature from the American West, predominantly from the 19th century.  It’s impossible to study such literature, of course, without being exposed to the incredible dynamics that occurred between the pioneers and the Native Americans, so much of which was fraught with conflict and killing.  What’s hitting me the hardest is the reality that the pioneers and the immigrants who came to the west did so by choice–they chose to move and to explore and to take risks.  On the other hand, the Native Americans were forced to react to this onslaught of new people without having any choice at all in the matter–they came, and the Natives were forced to deal with the situation.

I’ve been put in situations in which I’ve had no choice myself, and I’ve never liked it.  I’ve felt powerless, weak, abused, and many other negative feelings at such times.  The fact is that we always prefer to do things by choice rather than to be forced to do things in certain ways, at certain times, for certain reasons that may not coincide with our own desires or ethics or moral principles.  And as I read and see more about the dynamics in America during the 19th century, I grow to have much more sympathy for the situations in which the Natives found themselves.  And with that sympathy comes also a great sense of appreciation for the fact that in my life now, almost all that I do is a result of my personal choice.

Do we truly appreciate our ability to make choices every day?  Do we truly appreciate the fact that most of us are not told what to do with our lives, that we have the ability to shape our own present and future through the choices that we make each day–even each hour and each minute?  I think that it’s far too easy to take this gift for granted, to be honest, and that most of us don’t really have a strong sense of appreciation for this aspect of our lives.

But we don’t have to continue taking it for granted, do we?  We can sit down and think about the blessing of being able to choose, the blessing of being able to create our own destinies.  Throughout history, many millions of people have had other people take away their power to choose for themselves, and that’s something that we simply don’t have to face if we don’t want to.  My boss may want to force me to do some sort of work I don’t wish to do, but then I have the choice to quit, don’t I?

As I read more and more about people who have had their ability to choose ripped away from them without courtesy or dignity, I grow more and more appreciative of my gift, and I feel a much greater responsibility to make sure that my choices serve others, and not just myself.  Choice is truly a blessing, and truly a wonderful gift, but it’s a gift that means little if I neither exercise it nor appreciate it.

The greatest power God gave us is the power to choose.  We have the opportunity to choose whether we’re going to act or procrastinate, believe or doubt, pray or curse, help or heal.  We also choose whether we’re going to be happy or whether we’re going to be sad.

Lou Holtz

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