THE BLOG
05/17/2016 02:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Sobering Lesson On Choices

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"Life is all about choices; Good or Bad; Right or Wrong; Your destiny will unfold according to the CHOICES you make" - Author Unknown

One evening after work, my husband and I were busy, as usual, running around--running to Costco, rushing off to client meetings--and decided to treat ourselves to dinner out. We were exhausted; he had been working long days at the office for the past two weeks, and I've been busy trying to eat healthy by meal prepping every week, a very time-consuming task! I've also been spending the better part of my evenings focused on getting our business up and running, all while maintaining a full-time job.

After a five-minute deliberation of where to eat, we decided on Thai. Off we went, enjoying the music in the car, laughing, and talking about how our day was. We pulled up to the restaurant and got out of our SUV. We immediately noticed two people behind our vehicle; one walking, the other in an electronic wheelchair. We did not think anything of it even though they both looked a bit disheveled; dirty clothes and ratty hair. We do live in an urban city, so anything goes!

As we got out of the car, the man asked us for bus fare. Normally we aren't quick to provide money to people when they ask. Not that we aren't charitable, but at any given time throughout the year we are donating to the United Way or other charities to help aid and assist those in need. It just so happened that we had spare change and my husband, being the generous and kind man he is, provided the couple with a few dollars. As we are about to walk away, the woman in the wheelchair called out my name, and I turned around.

It took me a second, but I soon realized who the person in the wheelchair was, and I went over to her. She was a girl I grew up with--not only that; we were friends in elementary school! There is even a picture of us on Facebook celebrating "twins" day, which is rather ironic because we were far from twins. She is white, and I am black, but in our big bomber jackets and plaid, we matched!

As I walked closer to her, I realized that in addition to using a wheelchair, she looked as though she was suffering from some substance abuse. I asked her questions I would ask anybody I haven't seen in many years. While she commented on how I looked exactly the same as I did back in grade 7, I unfortunately could not say the same. It was evident that life had taken its toll. The last time I saw her, she was beautiful and she was standing. I remember her having the lips that resembled Angelina Jolie's, but now, they were covered with scabs. She exhibited classic characteristics of someone addicted to hard drugs like meth or crack; scabs, dry mouth and twitching, all symptoms I have only watched on "Intervention" but not seen in real life. I did not hesitate in giving her a hug. I hoped the hug would convey a message of hope and empathy, rather than pity. We briefly discussed seeing my wedding pics on various social media platforms, but after 20 seconds or so the conversation abruptly ended. We said our goodbyes and she went one way and I the other.

It took me the rest of the evening to process what just happened. This girl, who is the same age as me, who I grew up with, went one way in life, and I went another. In theory, the odds should have been stacked against me. I am a black female born to working-class immigrant parents who were factory workers struggling to manage a family of six with no formal university education. She is a middle-class white girl, who, according to studies, should have had more opportunity for advancement. Later, at home, as I cleaned off my marble counter top and made sure my dog was happy and fed, I couldn't help but think about this girl and realize that we made different decisions in life. We all have the ability to control our path in life, regardless of our original circumstance. It just so happened that this girl somewhere down the road may have made some bad life decisions.

Later that evening I took an online privilege test and interestingly, based on the questions alone, the girl I knew would have most likely scored higher, indicating more privilege and access to opportunities, yet today she is in a much different place. I realized that although not everyone is born into privilege, it is something everyone can acquire provided we choose our path wisely and work hard. I am not in a position to judge, and I have no idea what could have happened to lead to her current circumstances, but what I do know is that our paths crossed that evening for a reason. Maybe it was to provide a sobering reality for both of us: for me to see what could have been, and for her, a realization of what should have, could have or would have been.