One out of a Hundred

Monday, March 3, 2014 | 0 Comment(s)

I made a math error.

That is not an easy thing for me to admit.  I mean, I have a Ph.D. with a concentration in Statistical Analysis.  I can construct both structural equation models as well as hierarchical linear models (both skills that have been coming up less and less in my day to day.)  Somehow, I still got the numbers all wrong.

No.  Not taxes.  I'm not that ahead of the game.

1 in 3 people will develop a form of cancer during their lifetime.
1 out of 5000 people will die of electrocution.
And the odds of dying from eating the 'poisonous if prepared incorrectly" Japanese delicacy of Fugu (a blowfish) is 1 in 3 million.

It should go without saying that this is a woefully incomplete list of potentially untimely debilitations or demises.  Stay with me.

For a long time, whenever confronted with these 'X out of X' statistics, I would always picture a big auditorium filled with all the kids I remember from my high school, and then, as the tragic consequence is revealed, one of those unsuspecting classmates, usually this kid, fall lifeless against the unforgiving gymnasium floor.  And that was that.  The odds were ever in my favor.

And the way I internalized this litany of iterative drawings of lots to decide whether or not a horrible hardship would befall me in my lifetime, was to believe that I had a 99 in a 100 chance of everything being a-ok.  That's 99% I figured.  That ain't bad.

But there were more than just math errors in this philosophy.  My first mistake was believing that everything will be a-ok for anyone.  And I'm not trying to sound grim, though I realize it comes off that way.  What I'm failing to parse out is best illustrated as the difference between the all or nothing outcomes of a poisonous blowfish infecting your stomach, and the fallacy of a life without horrible hardship.

If there are a hundred ways to leave your lover, there are trillions of additional ways for the heavy hand of heart-wrenching hardship to befall you.  What is missing from original equation is the simple truth that life is difficult . . . hard even.  It is naive to suppose, therefore, that life will somehow never be challenging for you.  Though, when the inevitable crashing wave of life does burst through the unprepared domicile of a person who really thought themselves that special, the receding wake of those typhoons always seem the most spectacular (e.g. "Justin Bieber" and the self-destruction already in progress).

This isn't a cry for help.  While it can be a slog-fest at times, life is simultaneously the closest thing to a miracle that you can in our universe.  Some people worry that in admitting, god forbid out loud, that they find life to be a struggle; that feeling that notion is somehow akin to being weak or taking existence for granted. To the contrary, it is often in turning to face life head on that we run headlong into the oncoming resistance.  Taken to the extreme, there are some individuals (hi, I'm Matt, have we met?) who fear death with a panicked vigor as an (in)direct result of their lust and enjoyment for life.

I mean if Jay-Z's got 99 problems, and he's sitting on a talented self-sufficient wife, healthy baby, huge rap career, and partial ownership of an NBA basketball team, how are any of us supposed to somehow get through the gauntlet of life without even a raindrop.

OK.  Back on topic. Back to my bad math.  1 out of 100: Avoiding the fatal bullets of terminal disease and vending-machine related fatalities.  Let's head back to my gymnasium full of high school classmates to illustrate the mistake I was making.

So, if you'll recall, when we last left our auditorium/basketball court, I had just pulled the lottery ticket for liver failure, and Mike is still lying on the ground.  He almost looks cute, a bundle of legs and arms. But the stick in the metaphoric mud, is that lung cancer goes next, and that's gonna be 8 more people, and Mike's already gone.  You hear coughs scattered around the gym, followed by *thumps*.  Heart disease. Thump.  Breast Cancer.  Thump.  Mauled by a tiger while on safari . . . No thump!!!  Car accidents.  Thump.     Crap.

And now I'm looking around the room and it's no longer crowded by the faces of people I kinda knew. Now, because it's my dreamscape analogy we're inside of.  Now, I recognize all the faces still standing as those of friends of mine.  People I liked and loved.  And yet the list of maladies is still only 3/4th completed.  And I don't want to keep reading the list anymore.  And life doesn't care what I want.

Because the numbers don't lie, but I made what turns out to be a major math error.

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