Friday, February 19, 2016

"Looking For Answers... Or Living Without Them"

“How did you get ‘Legionnaires’ Disease’?”

“I don’t know.”

Let us examine this concern as conclude this investigation, at least for now, though unlikely forever. 

“I don’t know” is, by my count, a terrible answer from three different perspectives.

First, although entirely accurate, “I don’t know” is not really an answer, the way that “Who is the queen of the Netherlands?”  “I don’t know” is not really an answer.  

That answer is entirely accurate as well.  I do not know who the queen of the Netherlands is.  I know that it used to be Queen Wilhelmina.  But that’s the answer to “Who used to be the queen of the Netherlands?” not who’s the queen of the Netherlands now, making me a historical smarty-pants but an ignoramus today. 

As an answer, “I don’t know”, as they say in football about a game that ends in a tie, is like kissing your sister.

You could fake an answer.  Asking the same question with an altered emphasis:

“How did you get ‘Legionnaires’ Disease?”  (because there were, at the time I contracted it, no reports of a general outbreak.)  To which I could facetiously reply, 

“I was personally selected for the privilege.”

As in,

“We have sufficient ‘Legionnaires’ Disease’ contaminant for only two nostrils.  Let’s shove it up Earl Pomerantz’s.”

But that’s a joke – a rueful, less than hilarious joke.  As with “I don’t know”, a responding joke can be viewed as a kind of a “punt.”  You are stuck for an actual answer, so you compensate by strategically kicking away the ball.  

“I don’t know.  Now you talk.”

“I don’t know” is the prototypically boring answer, unworthy of further dissemination.


“A friend of mine contracted ‘Legionnaires’ Disease.’”

“Oh really?  How did he get it?’

“He doesn’t know.”


“I don’t know” – not informative and not interesting.  And now add to that list:

“Minimally reassuring.”

Since last August, this is the answer I have been required to live with.

“How did you get ‘Legionnaires’ Disease’?”

“Random happenstance.”  (The “high rent” version of “I don’t know.”)

That answer may be accurate, but where does it get me?  Or you, for that matter? Look out, people!  “Random happenstance” – Legionnaires’ Disease, or any other misfortune – can happen to anyone.

At any time.

Bringing to mind comedian Al Lubel’s joke about the “silent heart attack.” 

“A silent heart attack can hit you at any moment.  And you will never know you are having one.  I could be having a silent heart attack right now!  Or right now!  Or right now!  Or right now!”

“Random happenstance”.  Just.  Happens.  And hard as you try, there’s not a thing you can do about it.  I have this idea for a New Yorker cartoon.  A recent arrival, standing outside the “Pearly Gates”, turns St. Peter and he says,

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

Feeling safe and comfortable in your personal living space?

How about the “George Costanza” direction for an answer?

“How did you get ‘Legionnaires’ Disease’?”

“God hates me!”

(In an episode of Seinfeld, George complains to his therapist that he fears that if ever has an enormous success, God will punish him with a proportionally terrible affliction.  The therapist replies, “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”  To which George fires back, “I do for the bad stuff.”)

It’s kind of egotistical to believe that out of six billion individuals on the planet, the Lord singles you out for Legionnaires’ Disease.  “God hates me!” is, however, an “answer”, meriting inclusion in our current investigation.

When you bring in the Deity, the conversation veers all over the place, spanning the spectrum from “God hates me” to “God’s plan is beyond all understanding”, a tenet of faith tested particularly when they are rushing your to the hospital and sticking I.V’s into you arm, informing you you have contracted a disease that got its name from wiping out handfuls of reveling Legionnaires in Philadelphia.
God may very well have a plan.  It just happens to involve taking me out!

Bringing us, finally, is the essence of this conundrum.

Which modality of reason do you identify with?

Let me be clear about this.  Everyone’s free to believe whatever they want. 

"Thank you."

You’re welcome.  Scientific certainty?  Fantastic.  “Random happenstance”?  So be it.  “The Lord works in mysterious ways”?  Knock yourself out.  Are they interchangeable as satisfying answers?  All can say is, that middle one – living without answers – offers interesting challenges. 

It’s not easy sleeping soundly on the uncertain pillow of “I don’t know.”

The thing is…

It’s all I’ve got.


JED said...

I would rather have someone tell me, "I don't know" when I ask them a question than to have someone tell me, "I'm sure this is the answer" and be wrong.

A scientist (or any other smart person) when asked a question and says, "I don't know" will usually get curious and try to figure out the answer. Not-as-smart people say, "I don't know" and just drop it and go on to the next question.

Shileen said...

I imagine that you could find an answer that would likely be true if you're willing to spend a lot of money and hire an expert or two, and you're fully aware of all of your movements and experiences leading up to contracting the disease.

As JED notes, those with great curiosity will always think about the origins of such an experience. Since it's a high-impact experience, you won't easily let go of it. It will always be in your mind, sometimes at rest, but still there, waiting to be examined again and again.