I recently ordered thirty dollars’ worth of books from a private seller on Amazon. In return, I received an empty box and a refusal from the seller to reship the goods, blaming USPS. USPS predictably remained impenetrable and bureaucratic, offering no recourse or refund.
The innocent woman working in my dorm’s business office caught me mid-rant, and she commiserated. “After working here for 15 years, I see what happens–you wouldn’t believe how often. Now, I never ship anything using USPS.”
Years of experience had exposed her to not-entirely-uncommon mishaps that many individuals do not realize exist. As a result, she had lost faith in the system, preferring to opt out.
I stayed angry for a few days. But would I use the system again? Probably. I wondered how many mishaps it would take for me to change my mind. I wondered if one expensive loss would be enough.
When I was an undergraduate, I was friendly with a clinical geneticist. She was in her late thirties, and she and her husband had opted not to have children. “There’s just too much that can go wrong,” she told me. There were too many ways chromosomes could break and realign themselves, too many ways a vital piece of genetic material could be lost in a single cell division, too many dangers in utero that could cause physical and mental deformities. “I don’t think I’d be able to handle taking care of a child like that.”
As a genetic counselor, she explained to couples the risk of having a child born with a particular disease or condition. It was also her job to counsel the parents if said child was born with said condition. Her days were spent considering unlikelies and talking to people whose lives had been touched by unlikelies.
I wondered if she had suddenly come to her decision after an especially sad case, or if her realization had been gradual after years of cumulative sadnesses. I wondered if her risk-averse perspective was in her best interest. She admitted that her biggest fear was regretting her decision twenty years down the line.
A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but what about a lot of knowledge?
I’ve felt my own perspective changing in medical school. You spend your days studying mishaps. Sometime’s it’s the likelies: one in two men will eventually get cancer, as will one in three women. Many times, though, it’s the unlikelies: the debilitating autoimmune attacks, the odd bowel obstructions, the random vessel ruptures. My classmates and I routinely joke that it’s a miracle we’ve made it this long.
Sometimes it seems as though being alive is an unlikely in itself.
I wonder if this sort of thinking is accurate on some level.
I wonder how this perspective will change my decisions.
I wonder if it will be for the better or worse.
I wonder if we’re going to go through life permanently skewed.
But I suppose there’s no opting out.