Thursday, February 10, 2011


My younger son (16) had it figured out: He would continue to take care of his body with exercise and nutrition and then he would die at 82. "And I'll be able to say I called it at 16," he concluded half-lightly as we sat chatting on the couch.

It sometimes amazes me what people think about beyond the easy-come-easy-go daily expositions. For daily public consumption, there is a more or less sophisticated TV-show persona that paints a confident picture. But inside there are wispy wonderings, questions and scenarios that can't be settled with bright banter or even gloomy analysis... how can I die when I am so full of life? will it hurt? what happens after that? where do things go when they die? where do they come from when they are born? if I was sad yesterday and am glad today, well, how does that work? And the answers to such wispy wonderings cannot come from books ... books are part of the more or less sophisticated TV persona that paints a confident picture.

For my money, there is nothing wrong with if-then suppositions. If I exercise and eat right, then I will live until I am 82. If I bang my thumb with a hammer, then it will hurt. If I go to the supermarket, then I can buy food. If-then ... cause and effect. It's an ancient habit, isn't it? -- something exercised in every moment of every day. There is a certain solace and stability in it ... things that happened yesterday will happen, given similar circumstances and intent, today. And sometimes they do...sort of.

But sometimes they don't. And that's where the wispy wonderings gain sway. All that exercise and nutrition and perhaps a person will not die until s/he is 102 ... or perhaps s/he will die getting out of today's shower. Maybe the supermarket will be closed. Maybe hitting my thumb with a hammer will not hurt all that badly ... or perhaps it will be worse.

Nothing wrong with if-then except for the insistence ... the expectation that comes between "if" and "then." When expectation is absent, well, anything can happen. But if anything can happen, my importance is diminished ... things happening without reference to my TV persona if's. It's scary. The expectation is so profound that losing the expectation ... well, it's enough to push a (wo)man into despair or determinism or annihilationism ... womb-gloom-tomb... more TV persona stuff.

If-then -- what a close friend and yet what a sponsor of wispy-wondering doubt. The only remedy I can think of that stands half a chance is to pay attention. Yes there is an "if," some proposition. But isn't such a proposition followed by ... anything at all?

Crouching in fear does no good. The only option I can see is to put heart and soul into our if's -- hold nothing back -- and then ... see what happens. It's kind of nifty.

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