Thursday, 3 March 2011

Rough Around the Edges: Choice

(The following is an excerpt from "Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Through Washington's Borderlands." Copyright RK Henderson.)

Because the choice is ours.

Many years ago, when I was a student, I entered a supermarket. A lady stood out front with a coffee can, collecting for charity. She was a cheery sort, a plump, maternal woman with a rosy Anglican face.

Ahead of me strode a man in a green coach's jacket. "Would you like to give to the Church relief fund?" she asked.

His voice had all the silk of a snow shovel on wet asphalt.

"I was poor all my life, nobody helped me!"

The churchwoman bobbed, taken aback, and he stalked past, shoulders hunched, fists jammed in his slash pockets.

I never saw the man's face, but his greying comb-over and spare tire are stamped on my mind.

I should have pulled out my grocery money, a single twenty, and handed it to her right there. I should have said, "Here's ten for me," and dropped it in her can, "and ten for him." But I didn't. In the moment, all I could think to do was raise an eyebrow, as who should say, "No good deed unpunished, eh?", and keep walking.

But the guy bothered me. He was rude. He was ungrateful. He was angry. It was years before I solved his riddle.

You decide what it does to you.

You don't decide what happens. When you're born, where you're born, who you're born, how you're born. Land slides, fields flood, markets crash, families fail, houses burn, dogs bite, lovers leave, people die. Dashboards dash and draught boards draught.

You pick a number and you watch the wheel. Same as us all.

But you decide what it does to you. Whether it makes you hard or soft. Hot or cold. Mean or mindful.

Poverty doesn't do that. Pain doesn't do that. Heartbreak doesn't do that.

You do that.

Cereal box prize:

Vulcan meditation for humans. Learn the way of kya'shin, or "thought controlling emotions rather than emotions controlling thought." Something many humans could really use. And those in their vicinity.

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