The Day I Realized There Is No Right or Wrong Decision. Ever.
When I was about 11 years old, my teacher in sixth class was Sister R* (*no names). I grew up in Ireland in a relatively small town, and the primary and secondary school (elementary through high school here in the US) was an all-girls school.
One day, Sister R spoke with the class about something very important. We knew it was important because she spoke in her quiet, serious, solemn voice.
She told us that Father T* was going to visit our classroom the following week. The purpose of his visit, she told us, was to hand out special pins.
The ‘point’ of these pins was that if we accepted and wore them, it meant we were making a promise in front of and to God that we would abstain from alcohol until we were at least 18 years old.
The pin itself was going to cost something like two pounds and some pence.
Which seemed like a small fortune to me, but according to Sister R, it was a very small price to pay for such an honor and a pledge to Our Lord.
Unlike the religious Sacraments, however, Sister R made sure to let us know that participation in this particular pledge was optional.
Encouraged, but optional.
An important detail, for those that may not be Irish Catholic — if you make a promise or pledge to God, and then break it, well it is a sin… and you are destined to go to H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks.
At least that is the belief I held as 💯 truth at that time.
Fun fact: the fear of going to THE PLACE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED was possibly the main motivator for ‘good behavior’ in my life for a long, long time.
It possibly is still.
Another (perhaps more important detail): When I was 11 years old, I was a younger version of myself: Thoughtful. Opinionated. Stubborn… and afraid of p*s*ing off God.
Ok. So there I was. Presented with a dilemma.
On one hand, I felt like although this pin-thing was ‘optional’, it might be the right thing to do. I mean, if it was God-approved, and I was a good Disciple, then it meant OF COURSE I would want to make this pledge.
On the other hand, I was only 11. And there was SEVEN WHOLE YEARS between then and the time that the promise-pin would become null-and-void.
I didn’t think I was capable of making a promise to ANYONE that would hold for seven years. And what if I ended up having a sip of alcohol sometime in those years — even accidentally??
I mean, I was GOING TO GO TO YOU KNOW WHERE!!!
I thought about this by myself all week.
Over the weekend, I came to a decision: I was not going to get the pin.
The risk of going ‘THERE’ was too great.
The fact that I then didn’t have to ask my parents for the cash helped seal the deal.
Father T* showed up to do his thing and collected the money.
I was THE ONLY ONE who decided not to get the pin.
THE ONLY ONE.
Sure, a few lost souls had forgotten to bring the money (Sister R kindly let them know they could bring it later, with only slight admonishment and shaming for forgetting).
But, I was THE ONLY ONE who had decided NOT to bring the money because I had decided NOT to get the pin.
The facial expression of Sister R was enough to let me know that I was doing a VERY. BAD. THING.
My mind was racing. “I thought this was optional?” “Why am I the only one?” “Why is Sister R looking at me with laser eyes?” “Uh Oh… I did something wrong, but what?”.
My hands were sweaty. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole.
The torture ended before recess (maybe lunchtime).
Anyway, we all got to escape for a bit and have a break. Relief flooded my body, despite not having a pin to proudly sport on my blouse.
The relief was short lived, as it turned out.
The next day, Sister R* asked me to speak with her outside the classroom.
<This can’t be good — cue the sweaty palms>
She brought me across the hallway into the cloakroom, and, for lack of better words, berated, shamed and scolded me until I was a sobbing puddle of snot and tears.
I can’t remember everything she said, only that she had ‘spoken to her Sisters’ the night before in the Convent, and that she was embarrassed by my behavior. In addition, she basically told me that I was to get the money for the pin and head down to the Rectory (I don’t know if there was a day or time) to speak to Father T*, apologize, and ask him to please give me a pin.
There was still a chance I could still be ‘redeemed’ in the eyes of the Sisters, the Church and God.
I was SO CONFUSED.
I honestly felt as though I had done the ‘right’ and ‘thoughtful’ thing. My whole objective was to avoid H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks. And yet there I was, experiencing it here on earth.
I was an emotional mess.
But I still didn’t want that darn pin (yup, stubborn).
That day, I went home and told my mom what had happened. The WHOLE thing (since they never knew about the pin-thing in the first place). I was terrified to tell her, because I didn’t know if she would also be ashamed of me. But I literally had to tell her because I was told I had to get money and go to the Rectory… and I couldn’t figure out how to do that without telling my parents. (Sneaking cash out of her purse was sure to seal my fate as a disciple of Satan).
To her credit, I never did go see Father T to ‘apologize’ and get my pin. I believe she also went to speak to Sister R (but not 100% on that).
My first sip of beer happened at around 16 years. Part of me felt guilty, but part of me felt so flipping RELIEVED that I hadn’t been suckered into that pin 5 years earlier because at least that sip didn’t condemn me to eternal fire.
When I was just 11, I was presented with what on the outside appeared to be a choice, but in reality there was a subtext: an ‘expected’ choice.
Every day we are presented with options, opportunities and choices — from what to wear to how to invest our hard-earned cash. Often, these options are presented by people, groups or institutions who represent something or someone that we aspire to be, who we believe to be good, and/or that align with our beliefs.
~ It’s often easier to assume that the hard-work of decision making will be done by others’ we have grown to believe in or trust. It’s so nice to feel part of something bigger, and a relief to not have to make all the decisions.
~ Sometimes we know that the decision we make will offend, upset or maybe even enrage someone else, and so we choose to please others rather than please ourselves.
~ Sometimes our choice won’t be popular. And everyone wants to be popular.
~ Sometimes we don’t step back far enough to see the bigger picture, so we are blind to the ‘subtext’ / ‘agenda’. And so often make the ‘expected’ choice by default.
That day, in my innocence, I made the best choice I knew how to make with the information I had available… and it turned out to be the ‘right choice’ for me in the long term.
In fact, this approach to decision making has stood by me my entire life.
Truth is, the experience provided a foundation for the unshakable belief that I REALLY CAN CHOOSE (as long as I’m willing to live with the consequences).
Stand in your truth.
Even when it’s scary (it’s often scary).
<I really wish this type of independent, intuitive decision-making was taught in schools.>
Thank you for reading my stories, thoughts and insights into this thing we call life — it sure helps to feel like we’re all in this together! *** The original version of this story was shared in a Facebook post.
Originally published at https://www.tanyatinney.com on July 9, 2020.