If my ever-so-enthusiastic Classical Mythology professor is to be believed, the ancient Greeks thought that individual choices narrowed the future by completely cutting off one branch of possibilities. Homer’s Iliad—my professor’s proof in his argument— is rife with examples of life altering choices: among other Trojans and Greeks, the protagonist Achilles first makes the decision to not kill the leader of the Greeks, which then leads to the decision of whether he should stay in Troy. He does, and it leads to his eventual death.
According to the Iliad, the Greek notion of choice stays true to the etymology of the word “decide,” which at one point meant “to cut from.”
I too believe in the notion of branch-cutting decision, though not with the same amount of direness that it affected the subjects of Homer’s account.
In my last year of grade school, I was presented with the decision of what electives to take to fill my schedule. Art was a no brainer: I spent hours of my pre-teen life doodling away on scratch paper
The last choice was a bit more demanding.
I am not particularly athletic. I played baseball when I was young, but I was relegated to outfield, a position not too pertinent in the far-striking field of T-ball. Though I was tall, I was not interested in basketball (despite every stranger’s inquisition that implied I must be). I was interested in running track.
My friends, however, thought track was a bad choice. They insisted that I should take band instead. I had no musical ability. I took piano lessons for about two months before quitting. Being tossed in with the stereotype of band nerds was not a road that I wanted to pursue.
Despite the warnings of peer pressure, I gave in. I enrolled in band. There was no track in my future.
I chose to play the trumpet. I really wanted to play percussion, but for some reason, when the time came to try out instruments, I walked right past the percussion room and straight to the brass room. Maybe it was divine intervention, but when I walked into the various rooms, I only wanted to play the trumpet. And I haven’t looked back since.
Okay, that was a lie. I have.
Upon high school graduation, I realized that I am glad I did not choose to run track. In my community, track runners were the epitome of what I did not want to be: many of them were lazy, uninspired, heavy partiers, and partook in illegal substances. My involvement in music kept me from the crowd that I did not want to associate with.
I believe my choice to play in the junior high (and high school… and college… and church) band led me to my heightened enjoyment of the humanities. It led me to focus my education towards things that excite me: history, literature, music. My decision led me to a road that I’m glad I’m traveled; a road that I believe appears brighter than the other branch I could have followed.