I’ve been thinking about last words, about what I’d like to pass on in my final few Coconut Chronicles. I don’t know if it matters. It’s likely, in the long run, it won’t make any difference to anyone but me. But it does matter to me, how I end.
The theme that keeps pushing itself into my brain is “choices”. Not all choices are equal but it’s difficult to know which choices matter most.
We operate under the assumption that we’ll know when there’s an important choice to be made. We imagine those moments as dramatic as someone pressing a gun to our head and demanding we choose A or B. In that scenario, with death as the ultimate price, we imagine we will dig deep and find the courage to make the right choice no matter the cost. But the truth is that gun-to-the-head decisions are rare. The choices that matter are often so small we hardly think about them until long after the moment has passed.
More than two years after her death, memories of my sister surface at the strangest times. We had an odd and often tense relationship in our adult lives. Our eventual friendship was hard won and came about mostly because I learned to get over myself and love Kelly for who she was and not who I wanted her to be. Because of this, the majority of my happy memories of time with Kelly take place before she left home, when I was eleven, with only a handful occurring in adulthood, after I was in my late thirties and beyond.
One of those later-in-life happy memories happens to be one of those almost-too-small-to-notice choices. I was staying with friends in Surrey while Fred was working on Godzilla. Kelly was in Burnaby for work as well. A rare occasion for us to be so close geographically. Our cousin had offered Kelly free passes to an annual culinary event in town, “EAT! Vancouver”. Kelly asked if I’d like to go with her.
It would have been easy to say no. I’d have to take the bus, and then the Skytrain, to meet her, and that would be a hassle. I was busy working on one of the Warpworld manuscripts and should have been using my time to finish that. And Fred and I didn’t have money to blow on frivolous stuff like a food festival. And what’s the big deal, after all? It was just a food festival, if I chose to say no there would be other events for us to attend together in the future.
I said yes.
There was a time I would have found an excuse to say no or I would have said yes but with a caveat, like I had to leave early or something. But this time I chose to say yes. No caveats, no excuses.
Kelly and I took the Skytrain downtown so we wouldn’t have to drive and could, thus, each have some drinks. From the minute we connected, it felt like an adventure. We were doing something new together! We wandered through the many stalls, sampled all kinds of food, sampled a few adult beverages, bought the odd goodie, and just laughed and talked and had the kind of good time all sisters should have.
It was the smallest choice, saying yes, but the memory of that night is one that I hold closest and dearest now that Kelly is gone. One fun night, just the two of us being friends and sisters. If I had said no—an easy thing to do—I would have missed out on that memory. If I had chosen to say no, I would have had to carry the regret of not having even one memory of my sister and me as adults doing something fun together, just the two of us.
Big changes, big decisions, don’t usually happen in one fell swoop, they happen in a thousand tiny yes’s and no’s. Look back at the path of your life, and consider all the seemingly unimportant decisions that brought you to where you are now. This, I think, is part of what makes most black and white judgments so fallible. Our lives are not a single sentence, they are epic sagas made up of millions of words, every word a choice.
If there is a lesson I have picked up in my brief time on this rock, it is that there are really no small choices. Every day, everything I say and do puts me closer to the person I want to be or pulls me further away. I am changing by degrees. Knowing this, the question becomes: Who is the person I want to be?
Letting go of this space is part of that question, another choice made. I may not know exactly who I want to be, yet, but I know who I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be the person who clings to “comfortable”, who falls back on habit, who chooses the same well-worn path when there are other paths to discover. I don’t want to be the person who keeps saying no when there are good reasons to say yes. I don’t want to be a person who waits for the gun to the head to make the tough choices.
What are the choices you need to make? Who is the person you want to be?