The Science of Choices

I have learned many things from my dad. A natural teacher, he spent over fifty years as an economics professor, gathering legions of adoring students and stacks of awards and accolades along the way. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about people, life, and what it all means. When I was a kid, I once asked him exactly what the field of economics was about and I have always remembered his answer. He told me that economics is “the science of choices.” His area, he said, was the study of how every choice has a potential effect and that one must learn from previous choices and try to imagine and estimate future effects as clearly as possible. I remember saying something like, “That goes for life too, doesn’t it?” I could tell he was impressed that I was capable of thinking metaphorically at my tender age. He smiled and I felt smart. I was sipping a cherry coke at the time and the taste still makes me think of weighty choices.

Most recently, my dad taught me how one gracefully tolerates six months of strong chemo at the age of eighty-eight and beats cancer. He is a true pragmatist, but has always been a person of quiet optimism. That strong faith in all things good sustained him through wartime in his native Greece and the gamble of coming to America on his own at age eighteen without a word of English, a soul on his side or a penny in his pocket. That faith has been a friend to him - and to me.

Since the third of April, he has faced the challenge of his life. After going to the emergency room with a stomach ache, he underwent a hasty and very unsuccessful surgery. Since then, he has been hooked-up and hanging by a thread - and I have been commuting back and forth from Cleveland to Oklahoma City as if the two cities are neighboring towns. He has had an abundance of bad days and a few decent ones. On one such decent day, his hospital doc told him that one of his choices was to give up, get unhooked and “be more comfortable.” My dad looked up at him and said very clearly, “Tell me, how does one give up?” From the doc’s shocked expression, it looked almost as if he’d never been asked that question.

Since then, my dad has had more bad days, but also a handful of decent days - and he teaches me with each one. I hold his hand and he still squeezes. I make a joke and he still smiles. He perks up for face-time visits with his granddaughter and he still waves off medical personnel when they patronize him. He’s still here and he’s still himself. I’m not sure he knows it, but he answers his own question every day. How does one give up? It’s a simple answer.

One doesn’t.

Life choices might be a bit more art than science.


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