Again why choice matters. Not only was it the consolation prize for being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, but it matters hugely for survival.
I was going to say it is what defines us as human, but according to Sheena Ivengar in The Art of Choosing, animals living in zoos live far less long, elephants only 17 years as against 56 years in the wild. They have all mod cons and don't have to lift a paw to feed themselves, but they have no control, no choice.
Sadly this makes me think of friends in retirement homes, an earthbound equivalent of a cruise ship. They show a marked decline very fast. One remarked fatalistically, “What can one do?” when the residence changed their mealtimes and their tables without consultation.
Now Thea's actions make sense. She has a little cushion that she treats like a kitten. It is taken round the house, shown everything and parked in daycare (under my pillow). She sings to it, a very different sound from her raucous demands for food. She doesn't want toys or even another cushion and was heartbroken when she lost it; overjoyed when reunited. Now I can see that, although she lives in great luxury, it is the only thing she can control.
When the pain is bad, what helps me most is to take back control. Ask, “What CAN I do?” not glumly list the ever-shutting doors. It may be only playing patience on my iTouch, the bottom level; choosing anything constructive rates higher, perhaps chopping some carrots; and tops for morale and distraction is doing something for someone else, maybe phoning a lonely friend. I can do that lying down; what's more over the phone I appear OK and deliberately lilting my voice feeds back in, taking me out of the victim role.
So choice is a must, a survival tool, to be cherished and clung onto. It was Victor Frankl, an Auchwitz survivor, who wrote in Man's Search for Meaning:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Someone who can attest to choosing against the odds is Steven Callahan, who survived 76 days adrift in a broken boat. Sheena quotes him as eating barnacles and doing yoga, tossed in a leaky boat: “I now have a choice: to pilot myself to a new life or to give up and watch myself die. I choose to kick as long as I can.”
Now, just as I finish this, on TV is Robert Parker, bereaved father of six-year-old Emelie, killed in the Newtown school shooting. He is talking of forgiveness, of deciding not to be victimized by their loss and making the valiant choice to be thankful for the gift of Emelie's life and to grow from her death. In the midst of brutal carnage, he reminds us that being human can encompass grace in grief, courage and compassion. His choice of reaction reaffirms for us all belief in the human spirit.
The lesson I have taken from them and from the darkest moments of my own life is that whatever happens to us, much of which may be beyond our control, we can and must find a choice point in our despair – for it is the path to survival.
If having autonomy is key to quality of life, even for a cat, then how blessed we are as humans to have the ability to wrest choice out of despair – and from this grow our souls.
Steven Callahan – description and quote
Steven Callahan – uTube
Steven Callahan – autobiography
Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost A Sea by Steven Callahanl
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Krankl – free download