Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Rambling

My dad died on Valentine's Day, 1991. He'd had lung cancer for some time before-hand, and had been at home in a hospice program for a while, so it wasn't exactly unexpected. I was in third grade, and on the day my bus driver didn't notice that I was on the bus until after we passed our driveway. She ended up stopping at the corner of our property, and on my short walk through our front yard, my mom met me outside and told me the news. At least, that's how I remember it.

Valentine's day is one of the days every year my mom can expect a call from me, though my father's death rarely gets an overt mention. She's never re-married, or, as far as I know, been at all involved with anybody since. I guess my sister and I kept her fairly occupied as we were growing up. She's got some sort of shared plot and headstone already arranged where my father is buried, and I've always wonder if that sort of commitment was why she never found (looked for?) anybody else. Probably I could ask.

It's easy to wonder what affects my father's death has had on my life since - how being that close to death at that age has impacted my view of life and death. An article that's come up a few times recently in my news feed is How Doctors Die (mirror, which I guess is why it showed up multiple times for me). I want to be allowed to die, if I'm in a bad way. Of course, it's easy to say that when you're something like young and healthy. But hey, accidents happen. If I end up a mess in the hospital tomorrow, it'd be totally ok to let me go. Seriously. It's not like I'm doing much particularly useful anyway.

My mother and sister would, naturally, be the most affected if I died, and I hope I don't put them through that any time soon. My cats might go hungry for a day or two until somebody sorted them out, but I'm sure somebody'd take them, and probably do a better job with them than I do. Folks at work would notice I was gone, and I humor myself that there'd be a notable productivity hit in the project I'm on, at least until they hired somebody else. But it's a great place to work, and I don't think they'd have a hard time finding another person who thought so. A friend or two might think about me occasionally, but they'll be fine. Like damn near everybody else, my death would go practically unnoticed in the wider world. The world 10 or 100 or 1000 years from now probably looks pretty similar whether I was in it for a while longer or not. Ok, whatever, butterfly affects and all that crap, I have no way to justify that claim, but it sure is easy to believe. But why should it matter if my life or death goes unnoticed? What's the point of any of it?

I think, maybe, I've always sort of figured there wasn't any real point to any of it. People come and go, the world keeps spinning, the universe goes on. I think this didn't use to bother me. Just enjoy what you're given, and when it's up, goodbye. Lately, I seem to be having a harder time accepting this, and I don't really know why (getting old!). There seems little point to working more hours or less, eating healthier or having pizza and beer all the time, running a bit or just sitting on my ass the whole time, find something more productive to do than reading my news or not, ...

Perhaps it's a growing sense of indebtedness. I've been given more than I deserve - a loving family, health, wealth, leisure, a life of comfort and ease, ... - and I've done f* all with any of it. I subjected some students to lectures, homework, and exams taught some folks formal symbol manipulation (algebra) which happened to have d/dx or ∫-symbols in it calculus for a few years, but that doesn't make up for anything at all (in fact, I feel I owe them an apology). I suppose you could find people at work who would say that what we're doing saves lives, but it never really feels like that. And why should we save those lives instead of those ones over there? I don't know what it is I should be doing. What could I do that would seem worthwhile? What gives your life purpose?

Unless I'm missing something, I guess a lot of people get their sense of purpose from their religion - I don't have that. I didn't grow up going to church, and, honestly, am glad for it. I figure I'm a bit like Laplace, seeing no need for those sorts of assumptions about how the world works. Mostly I see people's religions as accidents of their birth and the fact that they were, like their parents before them, taken to church before they knew much about critical thinking. And if your understanding about how the universe works is an accident of which country your grew up in, or your parents before you, it can only hold so much truth. Besides, most of the major religions are thousands of years old, and it just doesn't seem like we should be trusting people from that long ago to tell us how things work. We've learned some things since then. But I digress (from my rambling? Is that possible?).

Sometimes I wonder if people find a purpose in life through a relationship. I could let myself die and nobody would notice, but if I were married, well, there's her to think about - or "In my nothing, you meant everything to me". Actually, I sort of thought I might be heading in to a relationship recently (I was wrong, in case you were wondering (if you've read this far into my neurosis, you'll agree she's better off)), and something like this very thought occurred to me. But, then, it doesn't really seem fair to put that sort of pressure on somebody else. Perhaps a relationship doesn't give you a sense of purpose, it just makes it easier to forget the purposelessness. Find somebody that distracts you and you're set.

Or maybe you find some purpose once you've got kids. Hell of a gamble, and, damn, why should I have kids? I hardly know what to do with my own self, let alone anybody else. Even having cats has made me wonder if I should be allowed to have that sort of responsibility. And, damn, the purpose of your life is to make some more people? Aren't there enough people around? I remember, even in high school, thinking this sort of thing. My mom always says how much she loves seeing my sister and I, how there's little she'd rather do. It sort of makes me sad, that I'm what she has to look forward to, or whatever. A few times recently I've seen my grandmother at family gatherings, and it always seems like she's just waiting to die (she honestly may have said as much herself). Why the crap would I want that? What am I supposed to do instead?

It seems to me, when talking about death and not seeing a point, one's probably gotta get around to thinking about suicide before too long. Not necessarily your own, just the subject itself. Of course, it also seems a difficult topic to talk about. Like maybe if you do people will assume you are suicidal, and will try to "help" you out of it. To be honest, I'm not sure I really see the problem with suicide, why there's such a fuss, or stigma. I've got no plans for it for myself any time soon - like I said, I've got the responsibility of my cats, and don't want to cause a hassle for my family. But suppose, 10, 20 years from now, my family's dead and I have no responsibilities to anybody in particular, and haven't found a point. Why shouldn't I just wander off into the middle of nowhere and disappear?

Maybe I just want there to be no point. It hurts less to fail to achieve whatever goals you've got if you think they're pointless anyway. There's less pressure to make good decisions when it doesn't matter. Want pizza and beer for dinner, cake for breakfast? Go for it! Don't want to do some errand you're supposed to do this weekend? Screw it! Procrastinate! Maybe you'll die in a car crash on your way to work tomorrow anyway. Of course, if you weren't depressed enough about the lack of a point, start making some mildly bad decisions for yourself. Adopt some bad habits. Watch the broken window theory at work in your own life.

So, that's me. Welcome to my world.


Team Primal Force said...

I'm not really sure what I want to write but I just felt like saying "hello." I did read from beginning to end which says something. Like it was interesting enough to do it. I visit your blog on occasion. And have for a few years. I've kind of followed your "ups" and "downs." We have many things in common (tho I'm married and still teach math). My career flip flopped between programming for insurance companies and teaching math / comp. sci. at the college level. I tutor math and english part time now and like it for a variety of reasons, intellectual stimulation and involvement with people who in general are 1/3rd my age.

Your ramble was touching, thought-provoking and very real. I liked it.

So, in case you ever wonder if anybody reads your stuff (and I seem to recall you sometimes do), I do.


sumidiot said...

Hello to you as well, Lee. I'll see what I can do about having posts interesting enough to read. And thank you (or, forgive me) for taking the time to read this one and respond.

RT said...

Have you seen this pretty funny math web series?

Episode 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JG6_VJLM1jc
Episode 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vur7odA_n1U

Cameron VSJ said...


I have a quick question for you regarding your blog, but I couldn't find your contact information. Do you think you could send me an email whenever you get a chance?