The best we can do.

This past couple of weeks – as you may’ve gathered by reading between the lines of last week’s cryptic post – has been, how shall we say, “a bit tumultuous.”

“But Pete”, you jump in unannounced, “You can’t have tumultuousness in your life, you’ve got it all man! Hell, do you know how many people envy the shit out of you? We want the cars, clothes, watches, hoes, and yes, even the JPEGs. We want it all goddamit!”

Well Timmy, you might want to sit down for this because I’m about to burst your precious little bubble, you say you want it all, but why do I have the sneaking suspicion that you actually just want to cherry-pick the diamond-encrusted accoutrements without any of the core fundamental structure, which is almost certainly more swiss cheese than it looks like from the other side of the screen?

Despite what the algorithmically-mediated-modern-industrial-capitalistic chumpatrons would have you believe, we can’t just envy piecemeal.i It’s all or nothing. Because what made one part of the picture so desirable was without question part of a larger context, including a whole bunch of other stuff that may not be to your exact tastes. In fact that “other stuff” is almost certainly less rosy than you imagine, which is why my personal rule of thumb for “envying” someone is simple: don’t envy them unless you would change every part of your life for every part of theirs. And since we really don’t even know every part of another person’s life – whether it’s the bullying or sexual abuse that tormented them in their youth, dysfunctional relationships they’re currently trapped in, substance addictions they’re suffering with behind the scenes, or what a million other possible and probable misfortunes – we know much less than we think we do about other people. So we need to be very, very careful what we wish for.ii Because we just might get it.iii

To bring this point home and make it that much more tangible (and personal), there I was over the recent holidays, looking forward to some quiet time in the office with my hardcover books, free from the tyranny of emails and phone calls every five minutes, as well as a lovely family trip down south for a break from the cold weather, when my dear love – my anchor and tether without whom I’d be pumping gasiv – started to experience a few different symptoms unrelated to the coughs and colds circulating this time of year. Mainly, it was her eyes that were bugging her.

Surely she’d just slept funny, we figured. It happens to all of us. Especially in middle age. But after a few days of eerie persistence, and with our trip fast approaching, she took herself to the ER to see if she could find some more answers to these persistent and even slightly worsening visual symptoms. Alas, after 5 hours of consults one night, and another 5 hours the next morning, she was cleared by ophthalmology with a clean bill of health. But something still wasn’t quite right. She still had pretty large bilateral symmetrical blinds that weren’t there just a few days earlier.

Now it was the day before the trip, and I could see that she was increasingly worried and definitely not on her A-game, so I suggested that she stay behind to rest and that I take the boys. Maybe she just needed a staycation! What parent of two hyperactive young boys doesn’t? Plus she had her sister in town and they don’t get to see each other often enough, so The Girl would stay back at home, lie low, spend some time with her two wonderful parents and three loving siblings, recharge her batteries, and cure whatever mysterious illness was plaguing her. I’d take the boys – as well as my two endlessly supportive and travel-ready parents – on the trip. And so off we went.

But no sooner did we board the plane that it became evident that my love’s visual symptoms weren’t about to resolve themselves. Quite the opposite. They were worsening and other symptoms were starting to appear, including an intra-cranial pressure that gave even my laissez-faire sensibility a shake. So back to the ER she went. This time she even negotiated some CT scans but still nothing was showing up on them. The emerg docs and specialists couldn’t see any evidence of immediately life-threatening ailments either, so they sent her home with some tylenol. But that wasn’t resolving anything. So she was left, by process of elimination, in the hands of our usual cohort of health and wellness staff, including our chiropractor and acupuncturist, and even though she managed to squeeze in last-minute appointments with all of them over the holiday break, nothing was helping.v

Now the headaches were becoming more severe and she was becoming extremely noise and light sensitive, experiencing post-concussion-like symptoms, all while what remained of her visual perception become more staticky and snowy. So back to the ER she went. Again. Only to be brushed off by the hospital staff as non-critical and discharged home. Again. Her condition – both physical and now spiritual – continued to worsen all the same. And we still didn’t have any answers as to why. With this being the holiday season and with healthcare staff stretched thin, it wasn’t clear how soon we’d get answers

So there I was, in Arizona, separated from The Girl by thousands of miles, with my in-kind spirits rising and falling as if on a Melvillian hunting expedition, all based on whatever text-message I managed to receive from my half-blind and emotionally distraught partner in crime. Between visits to Taliesin West, the Biltmore Hotel, the Musical Instrument Museum, Heard Museum, and Desert Botanical Gardens, I alternatingly received messages of reassurance that she was feeling a bit better in that moment, only to be rug-pulled and receive a message from her mother that they were on the way back to the ER, that my dear love was on morphine, and even that she was being prepped for surgery at one point. It wasn’t too many days of this long-distance mindfuck before I started to wonder, querying the skies above, would we have to wait for the coroner’s report to figure out what the matter was? Had we spoken on the phone for the last time already? Through it all, as we explored an unusually (and perhaps fittingly) overcast Phoenix area, I stared repeatedly over the digitally-communicated edge into the apparent abyss as I considered that I might soon be a single parent. Or that perhaps I already was, and just hadn’t been notified yet.

By the grace of Hashem,vii as I write these words now, the worst outcomes outcomes seem to have been averted for now. Yes, she had a stroke, but probably in the luckiest spot imaginable. And most importantly, she’s alive, speaking, and as sharp as ever (if awfully fatigued by the whole ordeal).viii I came home early from the trip to be by her side and provide some much-needed moral support, and The Girl is now on the slow road to recovery. Of course, she’ll still need a lot of support over the coming weeks and months, and beyond that we don’t know how much time we’ll have together until the next “event” pulls us apart even harder, or possibly for good, but that’s always true anyways, no matter how much we like to collectively pretend otherwise.ix

So that’s where we’re at: slowly climbing the mountain of better health and working with the local healthcare system as well as the Mayo Clinic to figure out next steps, including how to reduce the risk of long-term damage as well as minimise the risk of future recurrence, to the extent we can. But the general point being that, in this life, we don’t really know what someone else’s life if really like. Even as “transparent” as I am, you only know the small fraction of the whole picture that I show you. That being the case, and since we don’t get to ask Santa to trade places with someone else anyways, we’d better get bloody used to being who we are, where we are.

To this end, we should view our own envy with deep suspicion and generally consider it an unproductive and corrosive emotion to be avoidedx while appreciating that success looks like surrounding ourselves with our loved ones so that we may thrive in spite of the world’s inevitable slings and arrows.xi So when shit gets “a bit tumultuous” we can stand strong, grateful for our gifts and the time we have together.

That’s the best we can do.

  1. For another solid take contra envy, check out Envy Is the Cancer of the Soul by Lawrence Yeo (archived).
  2. Failing this, if I find myself envying some schmuck online (because it’s 100x easier online than in-person to get 2D cutout impressions of people and to make those impressions massively desirable), I bust out the ol’ ignore/block/mute buttons at a moment’s notice. This is mostly necessary when someone on the other side of the screen is too much of our twin – the Cain to our Abel – and that we find ourselves getting depressed and feeling inadequate for no strictly necessary reason. For yours truly, the list of people that I basically pretend don’t exist include the likes of Drake, Jon Olssen, TGE_LDNM, and any other hyper-mega-successful influencer and/or entrepreneur who is early-middle-aged and reasonably athletic, and therefore makes my local maxima feel paltry in comparison to their global maxima.
  3. But don’t take my word for it, just ask Chat:

    What is the sound of an avatar
    Envious of an imagined fame?
    A flat emptiness that echoes with shame

    What is the feeling of a void
    Lost in the depths of a persona
    No real breath to be found, only a hollow hollowness

    What lies beyond the fruitless search
    For validation in a false world?
    A life bigger than just a picture unfurled

    The answer lies in the stillness of the heart
    That never longs for what it can’t be
    The zen truth of the void that sets us all free

  4. You know the one about the cocksure CEO husband who’s driving with his darling wife in their open-top luxury convertible past the gas station? At the pump, the CEO spots his wife’s ex-boyfriend from college and confidently remarks, “My dear, aren’t you grateful you ended up marrying a successful man like me instead of that chump pumping gas?” To which the wife smartly replies, “No dear, it’s you who should be grateful. If I’d married him, he’d be the CEO and you’d be the one pumping gas.”

    Y’see it’s relative and relational all the way down!

  5. Next step was the Rabbi, but first I’d have to get her to convert… but hey, it wasn’t that many years ago that the average person would’ve chosen the Church Hospice over any available “medical” alternative!
  6. Lest you think that this was “poor treatment” by the medical staff in a prosperous part of Canada, you can only imagine how much worse they treat non-tall-attractive-blonde-haired-blue-eyed-medically-trained patients.
  7. From the depth of my being, thank you to all of you who kept her in your prayers. You know who you are! You’re my fellow faithers, 2-3 steps ahead of the curve…

    Circle of Cultural Evolution


    via Balaji.

  8. Not that the to-date diagnosis is so excessively sunny. Those who speak “medicalese” might find interest in the following:

    A right inferior partial quadrantanopsia and partial right inferior sector-sparing homonymous hemianopia resulting from a left anterior thalamic infarction consistent with an ischemic insult in the vicinity of the left lateral geniculate nucleus (left anterior choroidal artery circulation), all of which resulted from a subacute dissection of the left vertebral artery, itself the result of underlying Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS; hypermobile subtype but possibly also vascular subtype, though the latter subtype is as yet diagnostically unconfirmed).

    All of which is to say that The Girl has modern rather than Roman concrete* for connective tissue, and that – surprise surprise – “life expectancy” is every bit the scam that “GDP” is. And I’m really not cut out to be a single father…
    ___ ___

    During the hot mixing process, the lime clasts develop a characteristically brittle nanoparticulate architecture, creating an easily fractured and reactive calcium source, which, as the team proposed, could provide a critical self-healing functionality. As soon as tiny cracks start to form within the concrete, they can preferentially travel through the high-surface-area lime clasts. This material can then react with water, creating a calcium-saturated solution, which can recrystallize as calcium carbonate and quickly fill the crack, or react with pozzolanic materials to further strengthen the composite material. These reactions take place spontaneously and therefore automatically heal the cracks before they spread. Previous support for this hypothesis was found through the examination of other Roman concrete samples that exhibited calcite-filled cracks.

    To prove that this was indeed the mechanism responsible for the durability of the Roman concrete, the team produced samples of hot-mixed concrete that incorporated both ancient and modern formulations, deliberately cracked them, and then ran water through the cracks. Sure enough: Within two weeks the cracks had completely healed and the water could no longer flow. An identical chunk of concrete made without quicklime never healed, and the water just kept flowing through the sample.

  9. Indeed, we never know when a drunk driver is going to steam through a stop sign and T-bone us, when we might slip on the icy driveway and crack our skulls open,* or when we might be swimming in the ocean and get sucked under by a riptide. So when we’re considered the sudden loss of those closest to us – those who form the foundations of our Being – and when we’re forced to confront this music of eternity, perhaps the best we can do is ask ourselves: would we have done anything differently on our journeys together? At least in this case, it’s my sincere priviledge (and genuine relief) to report that I can confidently say “No, nothing was missing, we did our best and wouldn’t change it for the world.** Everything was as it was meant to be and we left nothing on the table.” With this in mind, I’d happily tattoo NO ROGRETS*** onto my chest, somewhere underneath the thick chest hair and pearl necklace combo that I’m currently sporting.

    ___ ___
    *This is more an occupational hazard here in the arctic where we have winter for 6 months of the year, but the equivalent for you warm-weatherists is probably being stung by a scorpion or bitten by a poisonous snake.

    **Can we do MORE than our best? NO. Can we do LESS than our best? YES. So let’s just do our best. The rest will take care of itself. This kind of framing is incredibly powerful when dealing with the mental side of recovery. Otherwise healthy and productive people are only too ready to beat themselves up emotionally over “only” getting out of bed to have a shower or “only” sitting upright for 10 minutes at a time. But if that’s your best, be proud of it! Always do your best. That’s not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t aspire to do better next time, but we also have to honour our best efforts in the moment and give gratitude that we could even do so much. It’s all a gift.

    ***NO RAGRETS is already meme’d to death, gotta be a bit different y’know! Plus, why can’t I can’t I have an Australian accent? I’ve been there enough times!


  10. As any Church would’ve told you, but you’re too cool to go to Church so you have to read it on some random Canadian dude’s blog. Go figure.

    Church Attendance

    via Novum.

  11. Or even because of these slings and arrows might we thrive. Post-traumatic growth, anyone?

2 thoughts on “The best we can do.

  1. […] in life,i lest my dear readers think that I’m “smart” much less that I “never suffer adversity,” I can comfortably assure you that any semblance of success I’ve so far achieved has […]

  2. […] of a self-imposed (and really pretty arbitrary) deadline every week. I have plenty on my plate, especially these days, and you’d really think that I could let the Sunday publishing schedule slide once in a […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *