I have been blessed throughout my life with the presence of extraordinary people. Alvin Bach was one of my favorites. Al was a diminutive man, barely 5 feet tall and a bit elf like. He was soft spoken with a sense of humor as crisp as the first bite of a fresh apple. Annie, his wife, had born him two children, boys, who were about to enter school when the Bachs moved in next door.
I was 18 then, a high school senior bound for college in the fall. Al and I hit if off right away. The more I got to know him, the more I admired him. He and Annie had been married for 11 years and during that entire time, Al had been in college. Now he was a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology. The house next door, two stories with full basement, was the first habitat their family had ever lived in that had more than one bedroom. They were in heaven.
While probably not brilliant, he was smart enough and worked very hard. He spent as much time with his family as he could, but most of his days and evenings were spent either at school or preparing his thesis which was on autism. The work he really loved was with autistic children.
By spring, he had completed all the requirements for his PhD except serving his internship. He had narrowed his choices down to two; a highly paid position which would have kept him all but isolated from patients and a poorly paid position working with autistic children.
There was little doubt which one he wanted to take. But the other job would offer he and his family luxuries they had never known; new clothes, a color tv, their first ever family vacation. Al felt that his family, Annie in particular, had sacrificed so much for so long that he just wanted to give them something back and for the first time he had an opportunity to do so. There was no question which job was the best suited to the development of his career nor was their any doubt which one would affect their standard of living.
Al’s debate wore on for weeks. I saw him become visibly stressed, the bounce abandoned his step and the smile his face. It was a sad thing to see this wonderful man reduced to a near zombie. I was beginning to wonder how long he could stand it.
Then one night, as I was watering the front lawn, Al hopped over the flower bed that separated our property, and bounded up to me like a young colt. I knew immediately something dramatic had changed. Rather than ask him outright, I waited for him to make whatever announcement he had in his own way.
He asked if my mother was home and I said that yes, she was in the house. He motioned me to come along and we walked into the house to find my mother. She was sitting at her desk when we came in and I could tell by her expression that she too recognized that change was in order.
When we had sat down, Al announced, “Well, as you may have guessed, I have made my decision. I start next week in the childrens’ ward at the hospital.”
Mom and I both smiled and said how happy we were for him. And it was true, as much as we wanted to see the Bachs improve their financial situation, we also knew that Al’s heart would never have been in that other job. When the congratulations were ended and the conversation slowed, mother said, “How did you finally resolve the dilemma, Al?”
“In the end, it was fairly simple. All the time I was grappling with my decision I was trying to find a reasonable, rational way of choosing. I looked at the facts, the implications, the reasons, until I felt as my daddy used to say, like I was ‘rode hard and put away wet’. After weeks of that, I was simply no closer to ending the dilemma than I was at the beginning. If anything, I was even more confused. This evening I finally gave up. I realized that if I waited until I had everything I needed to make a completely rational choice, I would be a very old man. I realized that it was just a crap shoot and that it wasn’t going to change. That made things simpler right away.
“Then I asked myself what was the best way to deal with this new situation, where rationality and reasons were not relevant. And that’s when it came to me, the way out of the quagmire. I realized that no matter what I do, if it’s the right thing, there’s no problem. Right? It’s only if I choose wrong that I’ll have something to deal with. Then all I had to do was to project myself into both situations feeling that I had made a mistake and ask myself, ‘which mistake would you rather make?’
“It was obvious. If I took the money and later felt I had made a mistake, I would feel devastated. But if I work with those kids and it turns out to be a mistake, that I can live with. End of story. The moment I realized that, the decision was made and I feel absolutely great about it. So do Annie and the kids. They’re behind it 100%.”