A trip to the dentist today, such fun!  What started as a routine check-up ended in some serious pain, numbing mouthwash, needles, and laughing gas.  While I lay in the tan, plastic-covered dentist chair sucking in as much nitrous oxide as I could without passing out, my mind began its usual wandering.  The hygienist was just over my right shoulder, no doubt sharping the array of pointy, metal, slash-y so-called “instruments” she planned on jamming into my mouth, while I thought about my childhood and how dentist visits were never so scary or full of Medieval torture devices.  I remembered the first time I ever had a serious visit to the dentist; 6th grade, after moving back to Texas from Germany.  And that’s when it hit me–an idea I had in my head after a conversation with a friend of mine suddenly started to make more sense, as I closed my eyes and went deeper into the memory, drowning out the sound of the whirring drill with vivid images.  I started to answer the question that I had been bouncing around in my head: why are some choices so hard to make, and sometimes, even the choice to make a choice?

“Do you like me? Check ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’.”  That was the note I got in 6th grade from Charlotte, in my last period class on some random Friday in Copperas Cove, Texas.  I can very clearly recall staring down at the note and not wanting to look up, knowing that her eyes were burning a hole in the top of my head, searching for an answer.  I couldn’t say yes; she was just a friend.  But I couldn’t say no; how could I hurt someone who did I like and thought was a sweet, giving person?  I picked up my pencil and carefully checked the ‘maybe’ box.  Almost the instant I did it, I felt lighter, as if a 10 ton weight had been taken off my shoulders.  I had no idea the many problems that came with that ‘maybe’, and that they would end up being a much heavier burden to bear than making a more definitive decision.

Being in relationship limbo sometimes seems like the best thing to do.  Why hurt someone that you care for, even if it’s not a romantic caring?  Why not just ride it out in that void, that strange middle-ground between lover and friend?  I mean, it’s so much easier than making an actual decision!  That’s what I told myself for years after that one moment in 6th grade, and somehow, like the over-achiever I am, I managed to apply this principle to every aspect of my life.  Whenever I needed to make a major decision, I would just check the ‘maybe’ box and put it on hold.  It seems like a great idea at first, but as all the life decisions that are on hold begin to pile up, things get overwhelming, and suddenly there are 20 giant decisions to make at the exact same time, instead of just one.

So I made a choice a few years ago; I chose to stop being stagnant in my life, to step out of the habit of choosing the ‘maybe’ box.  It wasn’t easy, and it is still a constant choice, and one that I don’t consistently make–I still find myself holding out on certain difficult decisions when it’s in my best interest to act immediately.  I can say, however, that I make the greatest effort to.  Quite often, that means me checking the ‘no’ box–no, I won’t start that Master’s program; nope, think I’ll pass on that wacky business venture proposed by my old college buddy in Florida; sorry, I’d rather not spend time with people that are a cancer in my life, good luck with that on your own!  I think the hard part is dealing with the unpopularity that sometimes goes along with those choices.  Playing the role of Mr. Onthefence is so easy, so innocuous.  It isn’t even participating in life, it’s like being a satellite orbiting the lives of all the active players.  I know that being on the line has its time and place…but I think it’s important to avoid making that the comfort zone you live in.  Am I in the minority with that thinking?

Okay, that’s my final attempt at thoughtfulness for the week.  I think now I’ll pop another handful of ibuprofen to preempt the pain that is no doubt on its way after spending two hours listening to Jimmy Buffet on the dentist office overhead speakers, praying in vain for them not to play “Cheeseburger in Paradise”.  If I hear one more steel drum…