In the old Forest Gump movie, Forest tells people that his Mama always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I wonder how much truth that statement contains. Some of its veracity depends on whether or not the chocolate box has labels in the lid.  Some boxes say simply “creams, nougats, nuts, caramels,” so the consumers have an idea of the box’s contents, but individual pieces can still surprise them.

Mrs. Gump’s truism certainly applies to many situations in life. For example, when a couple marries, they think they will always feel as they do on their wedding day. They naively believe their plans for their families, careers, and lifestyles lie within their control. After all, we believe that if we make wise choices, circumstances will favor us. I’ve thought a lot about that belief as I’ve heard so many people bemoan the circumstances of their lives. Some consider themselves unlucky; others, cursed. Too many blame others for their lot, but the most bitter complainers blame God for their underserved suffering.

Just as with food choices, people can make wise or foolish choices in many of life’s circumstances. For example, people can avoid many problems by making major decisions before situations arise. Those who devoutly participate in a certain religious denomination can avoid marital issues related to religion by dating only people of the same faith. Those with an aversion to alcohol should avoid serious relationships with drinkers. People who tempt fate by making foolish decisions should not blame others or God for problems they have created for themselves.

Some chocolate boxes such as the Whitman Sampler have all the labels for the candies in the lid. This makes choices much easier unless someone takes out the empty cups, allowing the remaining chocolates to shift around. When this happens, the eater takes a little more risk in selecting a desired piece. I have observed this consequence in my favorite NBC series entitled This Is Us. The show reminds me of eating the random chocolates in the Whitman box after someone has removed the empty cups.

The show’s main characters, Jack and Rebecca Pearson, have a marriage and family as nearly perfect as possible. They have a fundamental love and respect for each other and adore their three children. Early in the show, Rebecca delivers triplets, one of whom dies. Although devastated, the couple decides to adopt a baby someone has abandoned at a firehouse, thus completing their plan for triplets. Jack always refers to the children (Kevin, Kate, and Randall) as the Big Three.

Despite Jack and Rebecca’s total commitment to each other and to their children, their family has as many problems as any other family. Many family issues arise not because of the real situation but because of perceptions people have of a situation. For example, children will perceive their parents’ treatment of them in their own ways. Sometimes Rebecca allows Randall to do something that she has denied Kevin, which Kevin perceives as mistreatment or unfairness. He wrongly feels his mother favors Randall when in fact Randall’s compliant nature earns him some perks that Kevin’s defiance disallows.

Kate, the Pearsons’ daughter, feels she can never complete with her mother’s beauty, grace, talent, and sweet nature. Rebecca never intentionally does anything to make her daughter feel this way; however, Kate’s own perception dictates her feelings and reactions. Consequently, Kate often treats her mother badly not because Rebecca deserves it but because Kate envies her.

As with Kate and Kevin, Randall, though sweet and compliant, has his own problems. As the adopted member of the Big Three, Randall feels he has to earn his place in the family. He never feels good enough. After all, his “real” parents had abandoned him on the day of his birth. Because of his insecurities and perfectionistic tendencies, Randall suffers debilitating anxiety attacks. He thinks he has to exceed all expectations in his family and career. 

The Pearsons provide a perfect example of situations in which people have made wise decisions and laid the foundation for a certain kind of life: education, family, career. Many parents have well laid a path to success for a child who moves the candy pieces around in the box or takes them out altogether, thus changing the well-planned route. When the Pearsons chose to adopt Randall, they took the first step in setting up a series of random consequences that resemble what happens when someone removes the empty Whitman cups from the box.

Life has many tragic circumstances that no one can predict or avoid. A birth defect can create a dependent child who changes the course of the parents’ lives. An accident can shorten a life or tragically impact one such as a veteran’s haunting war experiences. Businesses can close, creating economic disasters. Even governments can fail while wars devastate millions. 

No matter how smart, organized, and well-meaning, people cannot avoid tragedies. However, we reap many sorrows, failures, and disappointments through our own choices. In our culture, we tend to avoid responsibility for our mistakes. We try to blame our parents, our bosses, our spouses, or our children for our own foolishness.

Sustaining a family network throughout life requires a miracle. With all our differences, perceptions, expectations, temperaments, and needs, we should expect family strife. Everyone wants love, appreciation, and equity; consequently, people can easily become angry and bitter when relationships seem one-sided. No one wants to defer all the time; everyone wants “to win” some of the time. Creating the balance within our families that will keep us lovingly together requires wisdom and patience. It also requires boundaries that allow all to retain their dignity and pride.

Certainly, many people have fewer problems than others. Many of them deserve pity, compassion, and mercy; however, life has no guarantees just as the box of chocolates with no labels. Even so, I love chocolate and will risk a cream when I would prefer a nougat or nut. I feel the same about my family—we have not attained perfection, but we face our challenges with love and respect.

Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing



  • This would be a wonderful talk for an Abilene Association of Congregations program. Well written and very interesting.


  • Love this Nancy! One of my favorites!!! This is Us is also one of my favorite series and record to make sure I don’t miss any of them. Thanks for another great article. Love you cousin!!!!❤


  • I have not watched “This is Us” but now intend to do so. Loved your article.


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