August 9, 2019

While running this morning, I stopped to stretch and overheard a mother trying to coax a child on a bike. She was leading him home, and he put his feet down on the street and stopped. “You had a choice,” she told him. “We could’ve gone to the park or to see the lady with the bird houses. You chose the park, and we went there. Now we have to go home.” And for a second, the child put his feet back on the pedals and moved, then he stopped again. “You had a choice,” she told him again, and again, she narrated the sequence of events. He started moving again, and then he stopped again, and again, she told him, “You had a choice.” And then he started to cry. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “I want to see the lady with the bird houses!” he wailed. “You had a choice,” she told him, and now, it had become a mantra, like if she said it enough times, it would sink into his head and he would see the logic behind it. But he did not see the logic. He cried louder. “I want to see the lady with the bird houses!” At this point, I started to run again because I didn’t think I could hear “you had a choice” one more time. I didn’t think it would do this young, patient mother any good for me to go up to her and start quoting Robert Frost, who also had a choice—between two roads that diverged in a yellow wood, and he was sorry he could not travel both. I didn’t think it would do this young mother any good for me to say, “I understand where he’s coming from,” or to tell the child this will only be the first of many times he has to choose between two paths, and while having the freedom to make a choice is, in itself, a great privilege, it does not always—and in fact, does not usually—eliminate the pain that comes from riding through the park, but not getting to see the lady with the bird houses.

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