I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices I’ve made over the past several years and how they’ve impacted my life, (created my life, really.) I think about the things that have been within my control and the things that have been beyond it and I do this in an attempt to integrate all of that hard-won wisdom. I celebrate the choices that have brought me closer to myself and to the life I want to be living and I do my best to be honest and compassionate about the choices I have made that have moved me further away.
I am not one of those people who believe that our entire lives are our own creation, that we manifest everything by our inner thoughts, our words, our deeds. Instead I believe that each of us has a set of given circumstances, a palette that life gives us to work with, and that as creative beings, we can make wonders with what we’ve been given. The art form that has helped me understand this the most is theater, which I studied in university.
An actor starts creating a character by looking at the given circumstances provided by the play. What does the text tell us about who we are? Does our character description give our age, our circumstance, clues to our personality? Do the facts of the play show us where we live, who we have relationships with, what we do for a living? Do other characters talk to or about us and give clues about our identity? Are they a reliable source of information or are they misinformed or have their own agenda? An actor scrutinizes the text for these given circumstances and, generally, doesn’t argue with them. The circumstances form the skeleton on which everything else is built.
Once the given circumstances are discovered, it’s imagination’s turn. Choices bring the character and the play to life.
Yes, we enter the room on our cue, “Lizzie, dear, can you bring in the coffee?” but how do we enter? Are we rushed, calm, resistant? Are we leaning forward or dragging our heels? If we brought the coffee, are we sure-handed or is the carafe precariously balanced on our tray? Do we look at the other people as we enter? Do we smile? Do we frown?
An actor makes a million choices to bring a character to life within the given circumstances of a play.
We do the same within the given circumstances of our life, though generally less consciously. When we walk into the office, the kitchen, the bedroom, the party, the dry cleaners, the apartment, how do enter? Do we hurry? Do we hesitate? Are we lackadaisical? Suspicious? Friendly? Do we stand tall? Slouch? Lean back? As we
engage with our activities and others are we terse, effusive, loving, resentful, sarcastic, funny, aggressive, timid? How do our interactions with our given circumstances impact the story of our life?
The wonderful thing is that we have far more freedom than a character in a play.
Inevitably, Romeo and Juliet’s love will end in tragedy and Didi and Gogo will keep waiting for Godot. But our magic is greater; we have more creative license. We can change not only our reactions and responses to the given circumstances but even the story itself.
When we hear, “(Insert your name here), dear, can you bring in the coffee?” unlike Lizzie, we may bring in the coffee or not. We may substitute wine, coconut water or
raspberry soda. We might bring the coffee on a tray along with carrot cake and one exquisite fall dahlia in a vase. We can suggest going out for coffee or for dinner instead. We can even enter the room with a cartwheel and say “Get your own damn coffee” and walk out the door.
Maybe we are sick and tired of being asked to bring the coffee. We want something different for our lives. Maybe we want deeper conversations, more challenge and responsibility. Maybe we want coffee in Paris. Maybe we want brilliant conversations about books and life and politics. Maybe we want to quit coffee because the caffeine keeps us up at night. Maybe we want someone to bring us the damn coffee!
We can change things when we stop believing our entire story is a given.
Yes, we have given circumstances. We all do.
And, we have millions of choices available to us every day.
Choices that are ours, no one else’s.
Choices that can change our story – even if they don’t change all the details.
Make a list of the given circumstances of your life. Then think about the story you want to be living, the person you truly want to be and start making choices, one by one, day by day, to bring that story and that you to life.
You can do it.