A lesson in honoring choice

As a Certified Health and Wellness Coach one of my core philosophical beliefs is that people can attain their desired level of wellness when they make choices with intention and purpose. This philosophy came into my life at a very young age and I credit one event with planting the seed.

I was a Girl Scout, and around the age of 10 my Troop was working on our various merit badges, one of which (I have no idea which one) brought us to a retirement community in Boulder Colorado to spend time with the elderly residents. We were each assigned a resident and a nurse walked us to their rooms. As I walked down the hall the nurse grabbed my shoulder and said “Mr. Smith has diabetes, and cannot eat any sugar. If he asks you to go down the hall to buy him a candy bar, you must say no. Because if he eats that candy bar he will get VERY SICK!” I had no idea what diabetes was at that time, but her warning scared the hell out of me.

I can remember his room, his deeply lined face, and his soft kind eyes. He was 89, and wheelchair bound. He had been a hard working farmer his whole life on the eastern plains of Colorado. In many ways he was like my grandfathers and it was easy to talk to him. We talked about school… did I like it? No. I liked to swim and play with my dog.

After a little while he very casually asked me if I wanted a candy bar. AND I went on full alert. I was ready. I was not going to buy him a candy bar, and make him sick. I had a job, and the nurse had entrusted me with that solemn duty. I politely said ‘No thank you’ hoping that he would let it drop. I must have had panic written all over my face. He got this mischievous little smile and said ‘well I’m going to have one.’ He rolled over to his dresser, which I was sitting next to and opened the bottom drawer.  Tucked underneath an old jacket was a treasure trove of candy. Full sized candy bars, shining in their brightly colored wrappers. Like any kid of 10 I was astounded by this collection, but the rule follower in me quickly kicked in and I said. “You are not supposed to have candy, where did this all come from?” And he laughed, not a mean derisive laugh but a laugh of true enjoyment. He said “Sweetheart, I’m 89 years old and I love candy. It is one of the few joys I have left, and so I choose to eat it. My son brings it to me, because he knows I would rather enjoy my days than live to be 100 but totally miserable.” I told him I was worried it would make him sick, and the nurse had told me not to let him eat candy. I was upset and confused. And he took my hand and said. “Sweetheart this is not your responsibility. You are not responsible for other people’s choices. We are only responsible for our own choices. I choose to eat candy, knowing it might make me sick.”

It is amazing how frequently I think of this man. A profound lesson taught with kindness and for that I’m deeply grateful. It took me years to understand the importance of this conversation, and how deeply  it would influence my life. We are always at choice whether we choose to recognize that power or not. We are solely responsible for our choices, and no matter what we are making choices why not give ourselves the gift of making those choices with purpose and intention.