Finding the Fifth Way

Sarah - Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Entered on June 8, 2006
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: hope

I believe in the possibility of things unknown.

When I was a child, my family always went to church. Organized religion is optional now, but growing up we went to Saturday night Mass. I remember very few unique incidents, though the routine of the Mass is deeply ingrained. My younger sister Jane would always suck her thumb, half-asleep with her head in my mother’s lap. During Mass one night, as Father Tim began to consecrate the bread, Jane lifted her head, turned to my mother and asked, “When can I do that?” I remember my mother’s half smile as my sister’s head returned to her lap, the kind of smile I always see at wakes, when the family member can’t decide what facial expression fits. Now I wonder about that smile, the expression of something between hope and painful realism. My mother knew that women would not soon be ordained in the Catholic Church; she just kept braiding Jane’s five-year-old hair.

I believe that when we don’t know that there isn’t a possibility, we create a possibility. Robert Heinlein once wrote, “…Psychologists once locked an ape in a room for which they had arranged only four ways of escaping. Then they spied on him to see which of the four he would find. The ape escaped a fifth way.”

So often we want to divide our lives and futures into columns. We make lists, we categorize and analyze, we build walls and we number the exits. We create boundaries for ourselves that restrict our thinking and by extension, our actions. I believe that when we see boundaries, we should begin looking for the unknown exits.

Sandra Day O’Connor found a “fifth way.” After graduating third in her class from Stanford Law in 1952, the only firm that would hire her offered a secretary’s position. O’Connor raised her family, became a key volunteer, and eventually rose through Arizona politics to become a judge. As the first female Supreme Court justice, O’Connor often found possibilities by creating compromises within a divided Court. I admire the way she left the locked room of gender bias behind.

Today, I don’t go to church often. Finding God in one building and one community is too hard for me. When I do go, it’s to hear my little sister sing. My father tells me that God is a house and religions are the rooms. I believe that no room will ever encompass the house.

I believe this because I trust there is always a fifth way, the option no one expected or believed was possible. I believe in the possibility of the unknown, the possibility of things yet unseen or unimagined. The bumblebee flies because it cannot understand the improbability of its feat.

In the space between hope and painful reality, in the time between the beats of a bee’s wings, and the gap of understanding between a girl and a woman, I believe in the freedom that comes from seeking the possibility of things unknown.