One of the biggest burdens of adulthood is choice.
Some say that it is a liberty, the reward of growing up. Perhaps it is. It would be if the choices were between good and better or between nice and nicer. More often than not it’s a Hobson’s choice. Where each involves a sacrifice, compromise and the promise of pain or guilt.
The most thorny of these, the most difficult to negotiate through are the choices where the past and the future collide.
I have a friend in the US. A troubled friend –in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to stay in the US and live with the guilt of being physically absent from an ailing, ageing father ( and a in-need-of-moral-support-mother) OR coming back to India and severely limiting his future career prospects and growth (not too many options for his particular specialization in India). His parents of course, are urging him to continue the current way. But for him, and for any reasonably sensitive person like him, every trip to India is a harsh confrontation of additional wrinkles, a slower gait and greyer hairs in the parents. A constant reminder that they are slowly entering into the twilight years of their lives and that there is not much he can/or is doing to retard this unwelcome progression.
What is the right way to reach in such a case? In both the cases, the consequences are painful. But it’s a decision which needs to be made. Future prospects or present responsibilities? Support for parents or curtailing career? “Get the parents to come and stay with you in the US” – could be the convenient answer. But is it really fair to uproot them from their homes, familiar environment, support system, friends to instil them in an alien place, dependent on the child for everything?
This predicament – call it Hobson’s choice or Cornelian dilemma can take many forms.
Take the case of a surviving parent who has sentimentally stored every memento of a forty year old marriage moving into the house of a child – what takes precedence, the memories that the parent HAD created with his or her spouse or the memories that a child WILL create with his/her spouse and the growing family? Does the child act as a repository of his parents keepsakes or does he build his future homes on the foundations of his dreams? When does sentiment cease to be sentiment and become baggage or even worse, a millstone around the child’s neck?
Take a situation where there is a newborn child in the household. The new grandparent has some strongly held beliefs on child-rearing which have been contravened by medical practioners. It becomes a potential minefield on deciding which diametrically opposing path to traverse.
How does one reconcile these two polarities of each situation and yet, not be consumed by guilt or regret of a choice poorly made.
The common sense answer would be the future - that is the decision which you will live with for a greater part of your life. But then, how can you ignore the fact that you are the reflection and the culmination of decisions the people in the past had taken about their future.
There IS no right way.