Here are a few pertinent things that have happened in the past few days: My now eight-year-old daughter E has started writing ‘mom’ instead of ‘mum’ (not just every now and then, but all the time). I have just taken out a subscription to the Missoulian so that every Sunday a fat newspaper lands at my front door. It is not my beloved Saturday Guardian, but it is something. And a friend gave me a plant for my birthday this week. A plant—something with roots—among the bouquets of flowers. She happens to be one of the only friends here with whom I discussed going to see a rental house. One of the other friends I told about it asked me where it was exactly. When I told her she said, “Oh my gosh, that is the house we lived in when we first came to Missoula. You will love it.” I am not someone who believes in signs. But I don’t believe in ignoring them either.
At my birthday party this past weekend many of my Missoulian friends were asking whether we were going to stay on here or head back to London this summer once our year was up. I told them all that I had been waiting for a flash of insight, a sign, a eureka moment so distinct and persuasive that I would know exactly what was right. But no Eureka moment came. My mother-in-law’s cousin Debra wrote to me recently: “maybe the eureka moment is montana itself.” I turned those words over in my mind for weeks. What I have found is that there has not been a lightning flash of insight; there has been a steady accruing of feelings and thoughts that have pointed me in the direction I am now going.
For the past month I had been asking the great philosophers to help me make up my mind. I thought maybe Renée Descartes who paired free will with our ability to choose could make my indecision disappear. “Will is by its nature so free that it can never be constrained” (Passions of the Soul). A beautiful idea, but not helpful in my current state.
Then I went to the go-to guy for deep thoughts on free will: Thomas Aquinas. He believed that our human nature leads us towards willing what is best for the general good of society. An idea perhaps too big for my needs. But he also thought that our freedom lies in how we get to this general good. The choices we make can be found in how we get to our desired end and the even more basic choice about whether we even want to consider this choice. This I found helpful as it looks at choice as aiming for things rather than satisfying basic desires.
I feel that staying in Missoula another year is the right decision, and yet I still get wobbly and emotional when I think about all the people in London I won’t see for another year. E was fine about it all until yesterday when she said, her voice going soft and crackly, “I think I want to go home.” She, like me, is somewhat torn between jumping into another year and running back to what we know.
A year away feels like a prolonged vacation. Two years is something else. I am not sure what, but I’ll know it when I get there. And I think E will be just fine.