Have you ever made a choice and then found yourself wondering what may have been if you had chosen differently? This week I found myself reflecting on the idea that our life path is nothing more than a map of the choices we make. Some choices are large and knowingly significant, but others that may seem innocuous or unimportant end up changing us in ways than we never expected or planned. It’s an interesting idea isn’t it – that a small unimportant decision could ultimately direct and control your life.
Last Sunday, we were in Gilroy. We made a small decision which inadvertently changed our lives.
We had just finished some back-to-school shopping at the factory outlets nearby and were debating whether to head across to the famous garlic festival for lunch. I was keen to go for the promise of fresh garlic prawns and salad. I thought the kids may like to indulge their appetite for weird flavours by trying the garlic ice-cream. It would have been our first foodie event since moving to California 18 months ago and I was keen to look around. It was 1.30pm. In the end, our decision not to go was based on the tiniest of factors. The entry cost of $60 and the heat – it was 37 degrees.
That decision – an innocuous decision to save $60 small dollars – the final argument that the taste of garlic ice-cream was unlikely to be worth it … what would’ve, what could’ve been?
I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but the reality is had we decided to go, we would’ve packed our shopping into the car at 1.30. We would’ve made the short drive across Hwy 101 into the Festival parking area, found a park, paid to enter, wandered around the stalls, grabbed an ice-cream and most likely been amongst all the action when a 19-year-old gunman decided to open fire on the innocent crowd.
It was a confronting moment. Not only for my family and I who are unfamiliar with the threat of gun violence on this scale, but also for my family and friends back in Australia who saw San Jose on the news and instantly enquired after us. I guess as far as mass shootings go, we were as close to being caught in one as you’d ever want to be. It was a near miss.
I was blissfully unaware of how lucky we were was until a friend from Australia messaged me. “Just checking that you and yours are ok and not affected by the Gilroy shootings?” “We’re ok!” I exclaimed but the initial shock was lost on me. Our life continued as usual until the significance of our near miss began to sink in.
This is the point where I could grab my high-horse and rant to you about the perils of the gun lobby here in the USA and how Australia and New Zealand have it all right. I could tell you that the locals I’ve spoken to don’t want to hear prayers and thoughts anymore. They want proactive policy and action. I could tell you that most seem sad, reluctantly resigned to the fact that nothing will change in the immediate future. Personally, all my political opinions deserted me as the near miss sunk in. I simply felt hollow. Hollow and deeply sad for this beautiful country that appears trapped in a tight grip of fear and hopelessness.
I also felt uncertain about remaining in California now that the threat of a mass shooting had arrived on my doorstep. I never suspected that I would be involved in a threat so close to home. That little decision not to go. How would I feel if it was my family that was forced to flee, to hide? What if we had been separated from each other, shot or worse? I don’t - no - CAN'T think about it any further. We chose not to go, we were at home, we were drinking gin and tonic, eating steak and laughing with friends. We were not there… We are fine.
Truthfully though, I have no political solution to offer. My thoughts are simply with the families of Stephen Romero (6 years old), Keyla Salazar (13) and Trevor Irby (26) and their 19-year-old assailant. Each of these victims represent - to me anyway- the 3 phases of childhood; a boy at elementary school, a middle-school cheerleader volunteering for her local community, a college student from New York on vacation with his girlfriend and a young adult who made an awful decision and paid for it with his life within minutes. Perhaps this was what he wanted, perhaps he understood the significance of the choice he was making …
I do believe we are the accumulated effect of the choices we make. It may seem that my pathway remained unaltered by our choice that day – we made the right one, we didn’t go. However, this doesn’t mean that I was unaltered. My opinions have changed. I am less forthright and less self-righteous about political matters I don’t understand. I am more aware of my gratitude - my children, my husband, my friends, my family and the banana bread currently baking in my oven. I’m softer somehow. Humbled. Interesting isn’t it – how the small innocuous choices we make can end up changing us in ways than we never expected or planned.