The luxury of choice

I recently told a friend, who happens to be a former colleague, that I watch House for professional development. She laughed. Nevertheless, it's true-- my training focused on the molecular level, and not until my current job did I need to know much about organismal, particularly human, biology.  Medical story lines on the show are pretty well researched, and they make interesting and weird connections-- all pluses in my book. But the real reason I can watch the show in that particular way is the writing. No, not because it's that good, or because they place all the clues out in the open. No, it's because they are forced to write the episodes starting from a medical scenario. 

What that means is that while they can and do develop the characters of the doctors on the show to reveal facets of personality or elements of background, to fill in the dimensions, to make them believable, at least to a degree, they have far less flexibility with the patients. If the patient in episode N needs to collapse unexpectedly in the opening sequence, pee blood right before the first commercial break, go into v-fib seven minutes later, fail to respond to the first several treatments House was sure were going to work, lie about something or other, and finally recover or die with enough time to spare to give some  screen time to the storylines about doctors' personal lives, well, that just doesn't leave much room for dramatic  and believable character development, does it? Which suits me just fine. If I don't buy the patient as a real character, I can concentrate on the medical aspects. So yes, professional development. With a side of ahem... eye candy, as my sister calls them.

One teeny tiny complication there-- they do develop their doctors as characters. Which is normally a good thing in a TV show. Completely messes with my frame of reference, though, when they make one of their own a patient. Can even make me cry when they then kill her. Yes, the season finale. Very well done episode, wherein they try and fail to save the life of one of their former colleagues who is also the newish girlfriend of the title character's best friend.

Tears show up for me a lot these days. Any report about collapsed schools in China is guaranteed to make my eyes water. Music can get me to well up, and I won't even watch some movies that I expect to be upsetting. And yet, over the last week I watched over a season of House on DVDs (thanks, sis), learned a bunch of new stuff, made some cool connections with the things I learned over this past semester, but didn't cry once.  I cried over that season finale, though. Couldn't articulate why. So I watched the second half again. Brilliant move, I know. But my need to know what was affecting me so much was greater than my need not to be affected again. I guess I can be analytical like that.

The second time I saw it, I knew right away. It was the dying doctor. Not that she was dying, but that she was making a choice, and articulating that choice. Her boyfriend asking her why is she not angry, why is she ok with dying. Because, she says, that is not the last emotion I want to experience.

She was dying. There was no way out. No choice, it seems. But she found something she had control over, and she made a choice. And the reason it made me sad, profoundly, deeply, for days after, is that I realized not everyone gets to make choices.

One of the things I try to do in my parenting, one of the things I articulate for my daughter is the issue of choice, of responsibility, of consequences.  Most choices children make are not of great consequence. You can choose to wear X or Y today. You can have this or that for dinner. But slowly, as they grow, so do their choices, and the consequences of those choices. Watching my daughter make increasingly more weighty choices has been one of the subtle pleasures of parenting.

I have appreciated for a long time,  from the very beginning, actually, that after A died, we did have some choices.  I chose to start the induction that same night, and to eventually accept pain relief, even though I wouldn't have likely for a live birth. We chose to name him, to hold him, to take pictures, to follow our doctor's recommendation and ask for the autopsy. We chose things after that too. Telling Monkey the truth, but not taking her to the funeral. Leaning on our friends, but not letting them come to the funeral either. Going back to work when each of us did. Many, many choices.

What I didn't appreciate, the way I never looked at this before was that making choices is yet another thing my son never got to do, will never get to do.  Babies have preferences, but no choices. His entire human existence passed, and he had no control of it, he never got to choose. I don't know what the last thing he experienced was. I do know he didn't get to choose it.

Maybe I am nitpicking. There are so many things that our babies won't get to do, so why am I focusing on this? My son also never drew a breath, but that thought has never made me sad for days on end. What is it about choice that makes it so fundamental to me, a loss in its own right? Perhaps it's all about what choice means to me. Autonomy, ownership, even avoidance of guilt. Because to me making a thoughtful choice means making the right choice.

I know that not everyone feels this way about having choices. I know people who hate having them, hate having to make them. So this is what I wanted to ask you today-- how do you feel about choices? Are they a cornerstone of human experience or a giant cosmic torture?