by Zinta Aistars
"Taking one’s chances is like taking a bath, because sometimes you end up feeling comfortable and warm, and sometimes there is something terrible lurking around that you cannot see until it is too late and you can do nothing else but scream and cling to a plastic duck." ~Lemony Snicket
I am being decidedly indecisive, and that is decidedly uncomfortable. I have read about studies that say too many choices can lead to misery. And I’m feeling it.
I suddenly remember Irma, and I sympathize. Irma was my mother’s very best childhood friend, close as sisters, right up until World War II separated them. One (my mother) fled the Soviet occupation to live in the United States, the other (Irma) remained in Latvia to cope with life in the Soviet Union. No comparison—Irma’s life was much harsher, and her health showed that harshness. She aged quickly and died still relatively young.
Still, the two friends did have a reunion. They separated as teen girls, reunited as middle age women. My mother crossed the border into the Soviet Union, and the two fell into a long and tear-christened embrace.
Then it was Irma’s turn to visit my mother in the United States.
I was along for the ride when my mother took her friend for the first time to an American supermarket. By then, Irma had been living under Soviet rule for several decades, and her every day meant coping with poverty, with a world destitute of choices. The State made all her choices for her. And choose what? She could walk into the store, ready to buy something, rubles in hand, alas, the store shelves more times than not were empty. Or nearly. Choices were few and far between. One took what one got.
So there Irma stood in the aisle of the American supermarket. She needed toothpaste.
Irma stood in the middle of the aisle and wept.
My mother and I hardly knew what to do. We stood and blinked at her. My mother wrapped her arm around her friend’s shoulder.
“Irmiņ? Mīļā, what’s wrong?”
Irma wiped her eyes, her shoulders trembling. “So many choices … how do I choose? Which one should I buy? How can you live like this and not go mad?"
More recently, I’ve come across reference to new studies that seem to indicate that the rising misery quotient in the United States has something to do with too many choices. We get stuck standing in the aisle, overwhelmed by options, and finally want nothing more to do than to run screaming from the rows and rows of unmade decisions. Not that I would give up having choices ... I choose freedom to make my own, thank you, but too many choices can sometimes indeed be overwhelming.
That’s me standing in that aisle. Blinking. With trembling lip and hunched shoulders.
Options. New options keep arising. Choices to make, and surely all of them good. Or not. What if I choose wrong?
Even that is filled with choices. Cabin in the remote woods? Small house nearer town? A ready-made cottage or acreage to build? On shore or tucked back in the forest? For year-round residence or as a vacation abode for the occasional visit?
Now a new option has been tossed into the circle for consideration. I do much of my financial business with the Latvian Credit Union. Yes, there is such a thing, and they are located a very convenient few blocks from my office. My office, however, is not conveniently located. It requires a daily 110-mile commute, which I have been commuting now into my fourth year.
“Tired of it yet?” Jānis asks me when I stop by to say sveiks. I love doing business here. It’s more like sitting around with friends in a living room than banking. If you are of Latvian heritage, or married to one of us, you’re in. Make yourself at home.
He tosses a long roll of paper at me. I unroll it to find blueprints. I arch an eyebrow at him in question.
He tells me about a Latvian contractor, a man from Rīga, who comes in with a couple of builders now and then, buys up a bargain property, perhaps a foreclosure, renovates and puts it up for sale for a tidy profit.
I take a closer look at the blueprints. It’s a compact house, smaller than my current home, but I've been in the downsizing mode for some time now. I don’t need much space, I just need space to fit my needs.
I park at the end of the long driveway and decide to brave the mud to take a closer look at the house. The builders appear to be on lunch break; the bulldozer sits silent in the ravine, and the house is open. I walk around and around it, peeking in windows, then brave an open door.
I was hoping to do a quick drive by and cross this off my list. But what I have now is another option. Yet another choice, another decision to make. I like this place.
Granted, at this point, much is left up to the imagination. The house is gutted. Walls have come down. Siding is half peeled from the exterior. Windows are boarded up. The interior is littered with plaster and pieces of lumber, and I can see from one room into the other between studs.
Driving back to the office, I wince aloud at how quickly I get there. The gift of time. Fifteen minutes to work where I now cruise the road for an hour.
But my northern dream? Can I do both? And what about my house back in Kalamazoo? And yes, that—what about Kalamazoo? I may work here in this city an hour north, but I live elsewhere, and back there, I have a network of family and friends, of favorite places, a neighborhood where I know every turn and corner like the back of my hand.
What about crossing the ocean? Now and then, here and there, I catch myself thinking about going back. What if I found a little house on the Baltic Sea? Could talk to the family about doing a time-share …
How long would it take me to sell my house? Would I get stuck with two mortgages? Save on commute time but roll back into debt in a buyer’s market?
My head spins. It’s getting really noisy inside my head. Dreams bump into other dreams. One decision closes down another. Or at least makes it harder to manuever. Fear of making the wrong choice paralyzes me.
I want to stand in the aisle and weep.
Too much to ask? Too many choices.