Choice & Illusion

“You are in control of your life. Don’t ever forget that! You are what you are because of the conscious and unconscious decisions that you have made.”

Barbara Hall, American Author

Have you ever leafed through the old school yearbook and wondered what became of the people on the pages? Whatever happened to the jock, the cheerleader, the smart kid, the quiet kid, the bully and the victim? Perhaps you know the personal history for some of the faces.  And maybe, like me, you occasionally find yourself asking the question, “What happened?”

I remember a boy named James, whom I met in elementary school. He was small, shy and socially awkward. We had much in common at the time, so it wasn’t long before a fledgeling friendship developed between us. We would share lunches over the noon hour and play games at recess like cards, jacks, or cars. The years drifted by and we drifted apart. By middle school, he had moved away. Someone told me his parents had gotten divorced. By high school, I had caught a healthy growth spurt and was no longer the shy and awkward kid I had once been. I was pleased when the new school year started, and I recognized a familiar face in the hallway.

I walked up to James and reintroduced myself. He didn’t seem to recognize me. When I began to speak of our time together in elementary school, he shoved me through the doorway of an empty classroom. Startled and confused, I asked for an explanation.

“I can’t be seen with you,” he snarled. “Don’t ever talk to me again!”

He was not the quiet boy I had known in elementary school. The awkwardness had been replaced by a volatile, hair-trigger temper and the shyness by a blatant disregard for authority.

I never spoke to James again, and it wasn’t until March of 2005 that his name resurfaced.  The local television station flashed an old family portrait across the screen and began to share the shocking details of a story they referred to as The Mayerthorpe Massacre.

I was shocked and saddened by the events that unfolded near my childhood home and, like so many of you, shared a profound sense of grief with the families of the four slain officers.

I can’t answer the question of what happened to James Roszko. I remember posing the question to a friend and former RCMP officer who told me, “It’s all about crossing lines.”

I’ve thought a lot about lines lately. The lines you and I cross may not lead to infamy but have led many of us into debt, bankruptcy, broken relationships, disappointment and regret. Reflecting back, the lines I should never have crossed, or decisions that should never have been made were often the result of my poor self-esteem or lack of self-awareness at the time. 

When we come from a place of fear, our decision-making will invariably be flawed. If we think of ourselves as victims, we may try to strike out at those we see as victimizing us. Fear-based thoughts are like a filter on a camera. Whatever we see through the viewfinder will be distorted. Without awareness, we believe this distorted image represents reality, and we react accordingly. Good self-esteem allows us to remove the filters and respond appropriately.

Reacting, as in kneejerk, is an emotional reply to a situation and involves little logic and even less self-awareness. Without awareness, we generally react to most things in life.

Responding, on the other hand, is a more centred and balanced answer to a person or situation. It may help to think of it this way. Envision a teeter-totter and imagine logic seated on one seat and emotion on the other. When emotion is high, logic will be low and vice versa. Responding means neither is heightened, but both are balanced and come equally into play.

Learning to respond is born out of learning to respect yourself and others. It comes from being courageous and committing yourself to a life of self-awareness and self-esteem building.

As if in answer to our question, futurist, John Schaar once declared, “The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”

I hope that when old schoolmates page through the yearbook and find your picture, they stop for a moment and smile, acknowledging you as a wise, loving and purposeful person.

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