Outliers

quipple398I’m basically a rule-follower. Unless, I think the rules are stupid, in which case, I do whatever I want. But overall, I like predictability. So if you tell me that x behavior will lead to y outcome, I’ll mostly go along with that.

Refusing to believe that some outcomes are both predictable and predicted has, more often than not, landed me in bad situations. (See: map reading. I just don’t trust maps. How can they REALLY know that? I know, I’m insane.)

The problem with any rules, theories or predictions are the outliers. These are the situations where everyone followed the rules, and they still got a bad outcome. These are the situations I talk to God about quite often.

There have been a lot of outliers in my life this year. Some of them are my own. But also, it feels like too many dear friends got cheated, too. In these situations, we did everything we were supposed to do or thought was right, in the order we were supposed to do it, and still… someone died; they got divorced; the test was positive for cancer; friendships ended. And it really, REALLY sucks.

It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do. ~Anne Lamott

Every single one of us feels betrayed on some level. I did what “they” told me to do. How did this happen? It’s made me think a lot about who “they” are, and why we believed them in the first place.

Turns out “they” were our parents, preachers and teachers. Almost every one of them gave us the very best advice they could. Very few were trying to deceive us. They just said it with a level of certainty that doesn’t exist in real life. There is no advice, no rule, no box to check to make things turn out ok. The X factor for life is so overwhelmingly greater than any plans we might hatch.

We can reduce the odds of certain problems, but there are no guarantees about anything. Even as I type that, it feels so childish that I got this far in life and didn’t already know it. I mean, I did know it. But I have to be taught some lessons over and over again. I’m slow on the uptake.

So I’ve been thinking about how I talk to my son. On some level, I want to reassure him that he can be in control of his life with clean living and a kind heart. Because wouldn’t that be so great if life worked like that? But it doesn’t. And he can’t. And I can’t control it for him either.

I have been doing the exact opposite of what my gut wants to. With the exception of what he can expect from me if certain behaviors either continue or begin, I’ve been telling him maybe about almost everything. Maybe if you stop doing that, you’ll stop getting in trouble at school. If you do this, then things will probably turn out the way you want. Hopefully, that will help.

But he is so much like me. He wants to play through all the what ifs. What if you’re wrong? What if no one knows? What if it’s a big trick? And I can’t answer all those. And I’m not pretending I can any more.

Because I figure it’s better to learn now we can’t know everything in advance. (And I’m totally filing a formal notice with the cosmic complaints department about that one.) And we just have to do the best we can with the time and tools we have right now. Some of it will work out. Some of it won’t. Then we must use laughter, love, forgiveness and kindness to manage. Gratitude helps a lot too. I’m also pretty fond of profanity.

His little anxiety-ridden brain doesn’t like this uncertainty one bit more than mine does. So I tell him the only thing I know for sure: There is nothing you can ever do that will change how much I love you. Nothing. I will love you to the moon and back. I will love you bigger than the sun. I will love you with all my heart. Forever. 

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2 thoughts on “Outliers

  1. Thank you for this post. It’s beautiful and nicely sums up some of the things that have been weighing on my mind lately. The whole, “I did everything I was supposed to do and worked so hard when I was younger that my life should be easier now” whine. Knowing we’re not alone helps though!

  2. Kerri, your whole post was really good and well written but the last paragraph made me cry.(You do that a lot, do you know that?)My son will soon be 37. We have had a rough row to hoe but I still feel the same way and let him know it every time I get the opportunity because that is exactly the way I feel about him. He is my heart.

    As for following the rules, I am a natural rebel. I broke rules and did things my own way for the most part but on occasion I did follow the rules. I can tell you it really doesn’t matter which path you take. Life still throws you curve balls and you find yourself sitting on the side of the road wondering what the heck just happened. It is all a crapshoot. That is hard for adults to understand and even harder to explain to children. My advice is to say just do the best you can and hopefully everything will work out okay. I am a therapist and that’s the best I’ve got. Sounds crazy doesn’t it but the truth is, that’s the best anyone has even if they pretend otherwise.

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