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Telltales of Ownership

“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”
― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

Sometimes we get frustrated by the forces seemingly aligned against us. I thought by now I’d have lived in a Paris studio apartment for a summer writing a novel. That seemed a far off but attainable dream once upon a time. Now? A dream unrealized and fading away into folly. I’ve chosen another path, and accept the trade-off for what I’ve gained. We don’t control everything that happens in our lifetime, we may only pick a course and set the sails as the telltales indicate.

We are blessed with any measure of control at all. We could easily be thrown in the meat grinder of an autocratic army, or a nurse in a Gaza hospital feeling the pressure from both sides of a maddening existential war, or a slave laborer in a sweat shop hidden in plain sight from the masses complaining about the unfairness of life as they realize Starbucks stopped serving Pumpkin Spiced Latte’s for the season. Perspective is a beautiful, terrifying thing. If we’re lucky, it leads us to gratitude and empathy. There but for the grace of God go I.

And yet we have agency. We may still set the sails and sail off towards adventure. We may be a unifying force or a divisive catalyst. We may get it right in the end or drive ourselves off the cliff. Life offers ample opportunity for the best and worst of us to express itself. We may indeed choose, and choose wisely.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Thankfully, or perhaps so far, most of us live our lifetime free from the darkness Frankl found himself swept up in. Do we celebrate this or feel trapped by the minutia and trivial? Are we even aware of the birth lottery we’ve won? We may not have the freedom to choose our next step, but we may choose how we react to the circumstances we find ourselves in. What are the telltales telling us anyway? In most cases, they indicate a blessed life of agency. We ought to act accordingly—not wishing for what we don’t have but making the most of what surrounds us.

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