The illusion of choices

Tomorrow, Dan finds out where he will continue his military service for the next year (and possibly the next three).  Together we discussed and considered the merits and drawbacks of the dozens of job descriptions and locations on the list of available positions: Would the responsibilities provide a challenge? Did the day-to-day aspects of the job seem engaging?  Were there nearby airports so we could easily travel between Dan's station Nashville?  Did a nearby city house a hospital that offered a summer CPE program, a requirement for my degree?  Would we want to live in that particular location for potentially three years?  Might I find a job in the area after I obtain my degree?  How would the job impact Dan's opportunities for career advancement in the future?  and on and on...

We ranked our preferences as Dan's instructors and the leadership over him insisted, numbers one through twenty, but after designating the first five or six choices, we stopped caring.  Each position received special consideration, its pros and cons delineated, and its suitability ultimately acknowledged or dismissed.  Painstakingly we had, for months now, sketched as many permutations of our next two years as a couple.  Our conversations ultimately came down to questions of our values.  What did we hold most important: proximity to one another?  Financial astuteness?  Potential for later career success?  Personal fulfillment and satisfaction?  When the list of open positions finally arrived after months of training, waiting, and postponing, when we weighed our choices no longer in the abstract but concretely, when we actually committed our wishes to paper, we realized that along with our rankings, we turned in a piece of ourselves.  The individuals who examine Dan's list see our goals and beliefs and desires in dreams.  In a strikingly intimate way, they enjoy a glimpse into our hearts (although I am not beginning to kid myself into thinking that the instructors and leaders look at the process that way).

On very few other occasions in life are we so transparent.  Rarely will we share so candidly and unashamedly exactly what we want and explain the reasons why.  But in this instance we present our own judgments and beliefs about what we have determined best for our lives and let the chips fall where they may.  What we in fact think proves entirely irrelevant to the outcome.  The decision lies with Dan's superiors and Dan's superiors alone.  Our "choices" are but an illusion.

Then again, I suppose military procedure is not that different from life.  What I find fascinating about the military is that it seems somehow to concretize, systematize, and make explicit what already occurs in the United States.  After all, I must ask how much free choice do we truly have in life given that the majority of our choices were constrained or rendered nonexistent from our moments of conception, then further constrained with each and every one of our subsequent actions.  During those infrequent scattered minutes when I step back from five-year plans and agendas and to-do lists, as I pause and take a breather, however, I allow my thoughts to drift to who does holds the controls.  It certainly is not me, and I do not really think it is the military either.

Yet the minutes fade quickly away into the hustle-and-bustle of life.  How convincing are our illusions...