Choice: Everything, Nothing, Or Somewhere In Between?

If I choose the right seat at Crema Café, will it happen?
Maybe something about the view from the table in the corner:
The downstairs crowd I’d watch stirring their coffee and playing with their phones
And maybe, once in a while, speaking to each other
Will solve some kind of mystery,
A big one whose answer
Will thrill and comfort me and everyone I tell.

Or something the woman in the denim jacket
Who’d be right next to me if I snag the other table, by the napkins and straws
Something she might tell me
About her life, about my life, about something in the atmosphere
Might do it, or at least push it closer
So close I can feel it patting my shoulders
Still confusing, maybe
But real, definitely real.

Some choices might be huge and others, meaningless
And it might be hard to distinguish in our usual ways.
The right toothpaste might inspire revelations
As it tingles your gums in its particular fashion
And sprinkles its minty froth over your tongue.
Its unique qualities might spawn your next big idea
As you daydream by the sink, brushing away.
All the other options will be, you know, toothpaste
Another sign of your groaning, grinding life
Every morning and every night
For months.

It might not matter which job you choose.
You might hate them both, and rush back to your old job
Within a week, after begging for a new appointment
The same feeling of bitter gratitude
In either case
Despite all that obsessing
And the scores of people you bugged for advice.

Some say choice is a myth, an imaginary power
Something we sense because we can’t see beyond the thick walls of our own minds.
It’s all in the hands of God, or fate, or an underlying energy
Binding us all in a hidden web of push and pull that we don’t perceive.
We mull pros and cons and picture ourselves after this choice and that
When we should just bend into it all, following that little tug in our stomachs
Wherever it takes us
Because we’ll wind up there anyhow.
We just will.

Others suggest that choice is everything
The wide, rambling world a jungle of randomness
Tamed only by our considered movement through it
Fabulous friends, incredible opportunities
Hidden among all the horrors.
One choice over another
Is key to landing safely
Again and again and again and again.

Would you like your mind to soar and expand
And feel like it’s touching realms that you won’t understand
In your current state?
Some believe every possible choice is made, regardless of our actions.
Say you turn left when you could have turned right.
Another universe where you turned right sprouts into being.
That “you” who turned right goes off in separate directions
From the “you” that you know, the one who turned left.
This happens over and over: just think of all the choices you make
And all the other options.
There are many universes with “you” in all kinds of states, living all kinds of lives.
They proliferate by the moment.
Not just you moving to Connecticut when you chose to stay in New York.
Even you selecting burnt caramel ice cream
When you actually opted for butter almond.
There’s no “actually,” when you look at it from this angle.
You chose every possible flavor, and moved on from there
Into different universes.

Don’t ask me to explain this, because I can’t.
But it’s an idea that super-smart people have
Based on quantum physics
And the incredible observation that particles
Exist in more than one state
Until they’re observed by conscious minds.

In the end, as far as we know, we’re left with our lives as we perceive them:
The reality we can sense.
The view from your window
The people requiring your effort and time
The feel of your T-shirt against your chest.

Our choices seem to matter, even if they don’t.
And if they seem to matter, then they do matter.
Don’t you think?
Seeming is everything to a mind that perceives
In its own particular way, on its own unique level.
So we’re back to choice
The stress of it, the joy, the luck and the misfortune
Often depending on split-second whims.

And wow: so much is out there: so much wonder, so much horror.
Duck into Café Algiers and you might talk to someone
Who will shift your life in all good ways.
She’ll become a true pal for decades
There for you when you’re 95.
Or she’ll offer information that leads to the best job of your life
A chance to spread your ideas and your heart across the planet
Or even just to have fun while making good money
Living in the place you love most.

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Or maybe you’ll say something
That feels small to you, just an average compliment.
“Talking to you is wonderful; you made my afternoon.”
And you’ll stop her from killing herself
Or boost her confidence enough
That she’ll take that demanding research position despite her depression
And because of the resources and people she meets
And a weird, lucky accident that could only happen with her quirky habits
She’ll make a discovery that arrests human aging
Adding universes to our store of future hours.

Choose Café Pamplona instead
And you’ll just sit there, reading, nothing changing, same old grief.
But there’s no way of knowing in advance.
Maybe Café Pamplona is this hour’s land of opportunity
And you’ll languish at Café Algiers
Wishing everything could change.

Walk left instead of right and you might encounter a lunatic with a gun.
Or maybe you’ll find the lunatic as soon as you turn right.
We all know that, all have that underlying fear
At least those of us who don’t want to get shot.

I used to sense that something was protecting me:
Intuition to choose the good or even the glorious
Or an outside force pushing me subtly into paths that would fit.
A siren calling me to joy
In a pitch I couldn’t exactly hear
But could sense, or imagine, or something
In a way that drew me close.

Now it all feels messier
Millions of paths and no clear answers
A mass of gray faces and critical tones
Masking the few warm souls
Who are somewhere
Who are all over, in fact
But I need to find them
By accident
Or by luck
Or even by some kind of design
That’s harder to see now
Because it’s hidden by the filth of disappointment.

Like with so many questions
I lean towards an intermediate stance.
There’s randomness and craziness and meanness
And occasionally, there’s something else.
I sense it sometimes
And, every once in a while, evidence comes up.
Those wild coincidences
When the fabric of life seems to split
And I see into the crack
And it’s… maybe it’s “it”
The “it” I began with
The one I want to know, capture, or see
Or whatever I’d experience if I found it.

They’re weird and dream-like and not overtly wondrous
Not the booming, loving voice of God or Goodness
Just small but unaccountable things.
The person who appears over and over again
For no explainable reason
Throughout town and even online.
Or discussing some unusual, seemingly irrelevant topic
Like albinos, or identical triplets
And watching examples appear minutes later
When I hadn’t seen them in many years.

I’m scared. I’m confused. I need help.
I keep hoping that, finally, I’ll make a choice
That makes this world feel like my place.
If I bend my mind towards that goal
Can I shift the universe — the only one I know of —
Towards it?
Will I feel a tickle pushing me somewhere
That will mean something big?
Maybe. And “maybe” is a fraction of a miracle.


Image Credit: Alex Gage, “A-Maze-in’ Skating,” Paris, November 17, 2014, on