As I was driving into the kibbutz today around “high noon,” I noticed the lifeguard from our community pool making his way up on foot from the end of the road that leads in and out of Hannaton.
My car and my mind were still traveling at a moderately high speed and I didn’t really notice him until I had already passed him by 50 feet or so (15 meters).
A few seconds after I noticed him, however, I thought to myself, “I should probably give him a ride up to the pool. It’s hot out.”
But I didn’t stop. I kept driving.
And I almost continued home…because in a matter of five seconds I had convinced myself that since I had already passed him, the opportunity to help him had passed as well.
But five seconds later, I understood that belief to be false.
I turned the car around and went back.
“Rotzeh tremp?” I asked the lifeguard. Of course he did. It was blistering hot.
After I dropped him off at the pool, I thought about the 15-second process by which I had made the decision.
How at first I acted so mindlessly, as one often does when driving for a long stretch alone, held captive by one’s own thoughts, opinions, and observations.
And then suddenly, how my mind took notice. (He’s there. He could use a ride. He could use my help.) And how that realization was quickly followed by an action (keep driving), which was followed by yet another thought (you can still turn around) and yet another action.
Simple, right? Not really. Because most of us pass each day, each year even, the way I passed the lifeguard.
Thinking followed by acting followed by thinking and more acting. Our thoughts, opinions, and observations driving our choices. Often mindlessly. And both on a micro and a macro level.
We do this with the choices we make as we move through our day. And we do this with decisions we need to make about our career, our family, our community, our health, and even our country and our planet.
On the occasions when we realize we’re on auto-pilot, we also often possess the notion that we have no choice but to keep moving forward with the action we began. The reasons, when you examine them closely, range from stubbornness to shame to fear.
But in this one brief moment, during one of my own days on auto-pilot, I became aware again of the ultimate choice we have:
While we often can’t turn back the way I did to collect the lifeguard, we can stop the instant we realize that our earlier choice was not the right one — as long as we are willing to give up our stubborness, our fear, our shame.
We can choose again.
In that moment, we can give up the feelings of awkwardness. (Yikes, that was thoughtless of me. I should have picked him up right away.)
We can give up any attachment to the previous choice. (But I was in a rush. I wasn’t thinking. I needed to get home quickly.)
We can give up who we were and what we were committed to in the moment we made the choice to begin with.
We can do it in any given moment. And we can do this for choices both big and small.
Yes, there will always be consequences to our decisions. But what distinguishes human beings from other animals is our ability to recognize when we’ve made a wrong turn…and the strength we must possess to right it.