It was a choice I made.
I recount one of my last Cambodian tales to an audience at my brother’s graduation party, with both a sheepish grin and a sling slung around my left arm.
“What was a girl to do in the 110-degree heat?” I ask, honestly. “Ice skating, of course.”
Chuckling ensues. “Well, at least it’s a story,” my family responds, shaking their heads and collectively sighing in unison: “Only Bethany.”
Yes, ice-skating in Cambodia was a choice I made on the last afternoon of the program … and I fractured my “radial head” in the process. But I don’t regret my decision of 40 blissful minutes skating around like an ice princess – not really.
This week, re-adjusting to life in the States hasn’t been as difficult as I had anticipated it to be. I sort of shimmied back into being ‘stuck in the suburbs’, finishing up producing Vince’s graduation video and decorating the house for the (now completed) festivities; I don’t know whether to be proud of this seamless transition or mortified that 3 weeks in southeast Asia didn’t give me any lasting repercussions.
Ohio is just like I always imagined it still would be, in the sun-baked hours of Phnom Penh humidity – except it’s greener than I remembered. Greener, lusher, with better air to breathe. I underestimated Ohio’s everlasting imprint on my Appalachian soul, and its ability to make me appreciate the wide open spaces of the outdoors.
But leaving Ohio for a different state of residency is a choice I will make in 2 years time – I’m just keeping my heart packed in a suitcase, neither here nor there, until the time comes. There’s so much of the world I have yet to experience, so much of this country, even. How could I pass by another 20 years in the same geographical coordinates, and be satisfied?
I believe what I learned from my time abroad in southeast Asia – and can apply towards the rest of my years – is the power of choice.
It was I who chose Cambodia, despite my family’s initial reluctance, to be my first international expedition. It was a choice I made to abstain from my oath of veganism, in order to obtain necessary protein, while abroad – but it was also my choice to eat traditional Cambodian food the entire length of the trip (and not succumb to the allure of Taco Tuesday like the majority of my peers). It was my choice to attend cultural programs every night of the trip, instead of schmoozing on some rooftop bar in the odd hours past curfew.
My choices: They define me, they identify me, they shape my past, present, and future decisions. Only I have autonomy over my true self, my body, my right to live as I see fit – and no one can relinquish this power from my own self, or from anyone else who is aware of this power.
Cambodia taught me that, as an American, I have a choice; I always have a choice. I have a choice to accept both my country’s freedom-flung history and the blatantly shameful moments in our past with humility – or I can avoid it, ignore it, swallow it down with another can of 50-cent beer. I have a choice to use my abilities, my opportunities, and my good fortunes to better the rest of the world – a world that sometimes hungers greedily for my birth-country citizenship that I, defiantly, have wished countless times to abort. I have a choice to acknowledge my guilt and move beyond it to a place of acceptance – or I can let the guilt consume me, hiding in the outskirts of another country and forgetting the place that gave me my name.
Life is a series of choices. Each choice – to walk or run, to fight or flee, to drown or to rise – is an act of our own agency, a power so mightily entrusted to each of us with living, breathing, functioning prefrontal cortexes.
One choice can transform you. Once choice can destroy you. One choice will define you.
It is my choice to remain steadfast and aware of the comforts of consumerism, now that I have seen the bottom of the labor barrel. It is my choice to continue hunting for a path of excellence, a path to achieve only the most outlandish of my dreams.
It is my choice to command my body. It is my choice to remain skeptical, cynical, and sometimes downright absurd in the quest for my career, love, and destiny.
It is my choice to believe the truths that I discover, and to resist temptation in believing all that I was taught to believe so blindly and innocently in my youth.
It is my choice to continue writing, and it will always be my choice to continue breathing.
My choices will liberate me from my mud-caked past into a fully blossoming lotus flower. (”Just you wait.”)
How curious. How exhilarating. How beautiful.
Until next month,
This post also appears on labellamemoir.tumblr.com