If you’re not familiar with the term, “timshel” was first and best defined to me by one Mr. John Steinbeck in his literary masterpiece, East of Eden.
“…the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”
This simple word has played more of a role in my daily life than perhaps most other words. It’s encouraged me and it’s tested me, challenged me, and left me feeling utterly frustrated.
Do you remember the first time you realized that actions, choices, have consequences? My earliest memory of this reality takes me back to being 5 or 6 years old and trying to sneak a piece of leftover Easter candy before dinner. As I tried to snake my arm around my sister’s back after the forbidden treat, my wrist caught on a stray piece of the old and cracked wicker basket. I yanked my arm back in response to the pain and was left with a bleeding gash and no candy to show for it. Queue red-head tantrum. In her utmost wisdom (and after ensuring I’d be just fine) my mother advised that I’d had a choice to make and had chosen wrongly. She went on to illustrate the first choice of Adam and Eve and how their wrongful choices allowed for a world of imperfection, a world that could feel and know suffering. I distinctly remember holding a grudge against Adam and Eve for years after that. How selfish that they’d ruined it for everyone. My scar was their fault. I wished then, and have wished many times since, that I couldn’t choose at all. Because if I wasn’t behind the wheel of my own choices, I couldn’t run myself off the road.
Yet as I’ve, blessedly, found myself on the ever gracious side of much better choices, I’ve learned that the responsibility of choice is the greatest gift we’ve ever known. The things that truly define us as humans – our intellect, our ability to love, our freedom to sacrifice – these are built on the framework of choice. So for each time I’m challenged by this word, I’m grateful for its meaning, its existence.
I don’t have to tell you that there’s a lot going on in our world right now, and though my intention is certainly not for this space to become charged with political agenda or opinion – vomit better suited for the comments section of a Facebook post – I would be remiss not to mention how frequently throughout the day I’m reminded of the importance and relevance of this word. Timshel. As headlines inform me of the acts of hatred, greed, and selfishness that threaten, with seeming nouveau regularity, to tear the world we know to shreds, one word flits across my consciousness. Timshel. Thou mayest. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. And it’s enough.
Choose to love. Choose to give. Choose to smile. Choose to be silent when prudent and vocal when necessary. Choose to do the next right thing.
Because that’s the whole point, right? To choose and to choose well. And when you don’t choose well every time, just choose better next time.