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She thought selling her body was her fate, prescribed by gods above. Perhaps another life would bring relief. Release if she lives this one well. I struggled to understand. What does living well in prostitution mean? Who robbed her of her freedom?

Now I struggle upstairs, head in hands. I can’t do this. Trying to please so many people, fight such consuming battles, cross the t’s and dot the i’s. I don’t know how to overcome. I’ve tried so long.

They tell me I can do anything, but I keep trying to do everything.

I rob myself of choices even as I decide on basic needs. I cook the food to eat, shop the deals to save, run to breathe the air. My soul withers, deemed unworthy of care. As though I, too, live my fate.

“You have choices,” my husband tells me. “Your time is worth something.”

I continue snipping coupons as he speaks.

I remember educating others on fatalistic cultures, composed of people who don’t think to make changes in a world that fails to impart choice. I taught as though in this land of the free, we never shackle ourselves or demand chains for others.

In truth, we bind one to his fate, then ask why he doesn’t change.

Photo courtesy of Carl Loven

We eye those living on the street, wondering what’s wrong inside them. Skepticism mounts when the beggar refuses an offering of meat. Assuming the bottle or needle consumes her life, we presume she has no right to preference or choice. Beggars can’t be choosers. Her choice has been made: a life on the streets.

Having labeled as bums and robbed of options, we yet condemn a lack of initiative.

I stand on the back of such society. I balance precariously there when a young man, not yet twenty-five, approaches me. He waits with gaze averted as I serve him Christmas lunch. The faces of those struggling and prospering blend together at this church that seeks to love all well. Marmot jackets and North Face fleeces clothe both alike in Portland.

Dirt-stained hands betray some, manifesting the dust-of-the-earth nature of all.

Photo courtesy of photos.de.tibo

Unlike the multitude that have requested ranch or branched out to balsamic vinaigrette, this young man selects Annie’s Goddess – a dressing extravagant enough I’ve yet to purchase it myself.

“I like organic,” he says. “I’ll take that one.”

Clearly vegetarian given the spread on his plate, I suspect he may be one who turns down fried meat on gluten-filled bread when offered on the street. I marvel at how widespread the Portland culture is, that this man knows he too has a choice in what he will eat. Organic is an option for him here. It screams dignity at the end of the line.

Passing by the tables a second time, he asks for bell peppers plucked from the salad. No lettuce, no dressing. Peppers alone.

“Right here.” He indicates a place in the spread. “To make it look fancy.” He smiles.

I cheer him by heart.

Unburdened by expectation, this twenty-something man embraces the choice before him. Pepper garnish for beauty. Perhaps he chose this rugged lifestyle as well. Perhaps it is his bettering. Respite from a heavy, hardened hand. Or forced from home, he now endures the cold while he searches for work. For all I know, he’s hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, lonely and seeking company here.

I can’t presume to know his situation, but perhaps this life is his choice. In any case, he comes to this meal with some who live homeless, some who barely make rent. In this place, one cannot relegate them to the Other.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Zirschky

It seems this culture has not so much shaped them as they have shaped it. Escape to the outdoors. Organic living. Pursuit of beauty. Disdain of the Corporate.

I offer salad to an older man walking by and am surprised at his response. “Naw. It’s like vegan,” he says. “That stuff freaks me out.”

I laugh. None will fit in a box. Each is complex and choosing a course, even as consequences unfold.

Spirit breathes life into me through interaction with them.

Whatever shaping power I have in life, I want to exert; not lie wearily by. Not let fear or fated judgments of others dictate my steps. Whether requesting a garnish or discerning essentials, I make choices each day that lead to habits and life.

Even as He leads, I must choose to follow. To lay down my life. This too is a choice. Whether destined or not, what I know now is the choosing.