|Photo taken by Andrei
Socrates waits peacefully in prison for his death. Crito comes and offers him a choice: choose life, your friends, your sons. And it sounds like reason, except that it is a choice.
Antigone’s brothers die on the battlefield; one defends the city, the other attacks it. So Creon, the new king, decides that one of them should be buried with honors, while the other would be left on the field, prey for dogs and vultures. Antigone goes against the law and buries her brother. She chooses family and love, one may say. And it sounds like reason, except that it is a choice.
“You don’t have to do this,” Balin tells Thorin in the Hobbit movie (I don’t remember whether the scene is in the book as well). “You have a choice. You’ve done honorably by our people.” You do not need to take a road that is unlikely to succeed. And it sounds like reason, except that it is a choice.
And Thorin says, “From my grandfather to my father, this has come to me… There is no choice, not for me.”
Imagine being in the following situation: someone asks you to choose between giving up God and death. You say, “I choose God.” And it seems like the right choice, the choice of a martyr, except that it is a choice.
I summarized here possible situations in which we can talk about choice. I’ve been thinking about this after I read an article by Fr. Stephen Freeman, which you may read here.
It seems there are two different realms here. In the first one, we seem to meaningfully talk about choices. We often say that a choice is preferable, that we appreciate the moral value of an action, and so on. If our children make a debatable choice, it pains us and we suffer together with them. If we are betrayed, we deplore not only the situation in which we find ourselves, but also the poor state of the soul of the one who betrayed us. And, if we think about the examples above, many people side with Antigone and her love for her brother. They praise her courage to stand against the law and fight for the ones who can no longer fight for themselves.
Our hearts may take courage when we hear that someone chose God and was not afraid of death. For we know that he chose the good.
But can one choose the good? Perhaps the difference is truly between these two realms: in the one of choice, our actions may be more or less likeable, more or less valuable, with more or less positive consequences. But, at the end, choice reveals one thing: that we believe we are the masters of our destiny. There is an important difference between choosing to become a torturer or not. But at the end, it is still a choice that may say that I became my own idol. When I choose, I choose the ego.
There is no choice for Socrates to run from prison. If he runs from prison, Socrates is no longer Socrates, but a lover of the ego.
One more story. After being in the prison of Pitesti, the place were the communists wanted to destroy the souls of the Romanian youth (you can see more about it here), Fr. Calciu was sent to Jilava, a prison underground, in a cell with no windows. “We had an electric bulb, day and night. They put four of us in each cell. In each cell there would be either a very sick man or a mad man.” It was a recipe for annihilation. The first day he enters the cell, one of the other three, Constantine (Costache) Oprisan, “whose lungs were completely emaciated by tuberculosis,” begins to cough up the fluid in his lung. Fr. Calciu narrates: “I was leaning against the door, surprised because I had never seen anything like that. The man was suffocating. Perhaps a whole litter of phlegm and blood came up, and my stomach became upset. I was ready to vomit.” It was at this moment that two words made a miracle: “Constantine Oprisan noticed this and said to me, ‘Forgive me.’ I was so ashamed! Since I was a student in medicine, I decided then to take care of him.”
It is the beginning of a process in which a soul that went through hell–and Pitesti is nothing short of hell–is cured. The beginning may have been a choice: he decides to take care of someone else. But this choice makes way for an inner rebirth, to the point where one can say, “I don’t choose God. But if I am to remain what I am, I cannot respond any other way than giving myself up. For this is what I am: a nobody for whom Someone is on the cross.”
Presence is not a choice. Choice results in lack of it.