Monday, October 5, 2015

"Lesson Learned."

A writer’s challenge:  You write too much and you’re burying your message.  You write too little and risk accusations of literary stinginess. 

“It’s like he’s paying for the words himself.”

You want to write just the right amount.  It’s a delicate undertaking.  Rarely successfully pulled off.

Who knows?  Maybe this time. 

Here we go. 

(Can you feel the excitement?  I can.)

“What did you learn from getting Legionnaires’ Disease, Earlo?”

I learned that it’s better not to get Legionnaires’ Disease.

“Too easy.  You endured a perilous experience.  You must have learned something.”

Or what?  It was a complete waste of time?

“I’m just asking.  Geez!  You’d think I gave you Legionnaires’ Disease.”  

Okay.  Sorry.  I know what I learned.  And I am aware it will wear off.

“So you learned something temporarily.  What exactly are we talking about?”

The illusion of personal control.

“Interesting.  Pray, continue.”

I thank thee.

I have this idea for a New Yorker cartoon.  A middle-aged man stands at the “Pearly Gates”, wearing a jogging suit, a pedometer, and a sweatband encircling his forehead.  The man turns to Saint Peter – or whoever – sighs futilely, and he says,

“I did everything right… And I’m still dead.”

You eat sensibly, take regular exercise, do nothing to excess.  You apply the latest strategies, insuring that your every action maximizes your health, personal wellbeing and longevity.

Most importantly, it is you, making all the decisions.  You are completely in charge.  Captain of your own Destiny.

With such assiduous navigation, what harm could possibly come to you?


You could contract Legionnaires’ Disease.

You could, like a friend of ours, have your foot driven over in an underground parking garage.

You could, like a companion on our trip to Turkey, slip on the sailboat we were traveling on, breaking your shoulder in three places.

You could, like my pilates teacher, be the victim of – not one but two – serious car accidents in the span of eight years.

(Feel free to consider examples of your own.)  

Human nature demands clarity.  And we are prepared to provide it.  When unforeseen circumstances befall us, we reflexively adhere to our conditioned “Explanation of Choice”: 

It was God’s will. 

It was Fate.

It was the random action of an uncaring universe.

What is my “Explanation of Choice”?

“I have no frickin’ idea.”

But I know what it isn’t.

Personal control. 
We like believing we are in control.  And a lot of the time, we are.  But for the “Big Stuff” – here’s one going the other way; I met my future spouse during an unplanned encounter on the street – we are not in control at all.

Stuff happens. 

And we have no say in it whatsoever.

We know this to be the case.

But we inevitably forget. 

Going back to believing our security rests entirely in our own hands.

I’ve been there. 

It doesn’t.

An uncomfortable reality, I admit.

But don’t worry. 

You find yourself determining, “Two slices of pizza and that’s it!

And you’ll know that it’s faded away.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

There's a great quote in the book Sinai Tapestry, by Edward Whittemore: "No one was safe, and there was no security - just life itself."


Jimmy said...

Dan Jenkins used to refer to it as Life Its Ownself. No matter how many times we hear 'you never know', it's still true, we just don't know.

On the baseball front, I came across this Blue Jay hype video on Bleacher Report, thought you might enjoy it. It's brief. But good. Go Jays!

JED said...

I really like how Earl Pomerantz: Just Thinking... encourages us all to think.

We all do want to be in control yet when we find out you can only control so much, there is a tendency to overreact and just give up trying to make the right choices. "Hey, if I could get a weird disease at any time, why be careful about what I eat?" That's the wrong reaction in the face of not having as much control as we'd like. But at the same time, maybe it frees us up to not have to account for every possible thing we could be doing wrong, too. It's freeing to realize that no one is perfect and no one can possibly make all the right choices.