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Choose Your Own Catastrophe
The impact of mom wisdom
When I was a kid, my mom had to confiscate my Choose Your Own Adventure books. For an already high-strung kid prone to anxiety, these books were not a good choice, pushing me past the limit of what my 7-year-old psyche could handle. I would use a complex system of folded pages and paperclips to try to mark off the plot twists that would ultimately get me the best ending; even worse, I became paralyzed by simple decision-making because I would try to imagine what events could cascade down from me choosing rainbow sherbet over cookies and cream at Baskin Robbins.
My mom finally took the books away and told me the following story: “One day I read in the newspaper that a man had been killed when there was an accident involving a freezer truck right front of him on the Interstate. He wasn’t in the car crash, but a massive hunk of frozen beef fell out of the back of the freezer truck, went through his windshield, and crushed him. That man did not ever imagine that that was the way he was going to die. He did not lose sleep thinking about this possibility. It just happened. You are never going to be able to even imagine all the ways in which your choices will affect your life, and you are never going to be able to even think of the possible ways in which things could go wrong. Life just happens. You can’t waste it all worrying about things that probably won’t happen, and you will never be able to worry about some of the things that will happen because they will take you by surprise. So just live your life the best way you know how at any given moment.”
Somehow, this snapped me out of my existential crisis (although reading it now, I feel like it maybe could just as easily have gone the other way, where I just stayed up at night imagining random horrible ways to die).
At any rate, I remembered my old book-based neuroses the other night when Ruby had to do an assignment for English class in which she wrote about one historical event she could change if she could and why.
She wrote: “If there was one thing in history I could change, it would be Katrina. To start off with Katrina killed 1,833 people. In comparison Hurricane Sandy only killed 285. So it would be really great if you could go back in history and change the hurricane. But sadly that’s not how it works. I would change it because it would bring back so many people’s lives and New Orleans would be better off if it hadn’t happened. The United States might even be better off if it hadn’t happened. So many people even who lived lost their homes and everything they had. But changing this would have downsides. I may not have been born for I was born after Katrina. My mom could have never gotten pregnant, but Katrina made her decide that she wanted a kid, and without it I may not even have been alive. If I wasn’t in this world, the world would be different. People after the hurricane think differently and love New Orleans more because they almost lost it. But my mom moved back home after Katrina, and she might not have without the storm. Maybe my sister wouldn’t even exist. Katrina was bad, but good things came from it. You can’t change anything without consequences.”
She gets it. She gets the good and the bad and the way they intertwine.
So far, it hasn’t caused her to go into a tailspin and be unable to order an ice cream cone.
If that happens, though, I know just the story to tell her to get her through it.