Monday, June 23, 2014

Coincidence and God thoughts/When I BURNED my HAND

Here is something else I wrote a while ago that I'm putting up in order to keep up with content and traffic to my blog. If I don't preface the blog post by saying that it is OLD or something I wrote a while ago, assume that it is fairly recent or just happened. Here is another oldie.

In early December I was attempting to decant boiling water out of a glass cylinder and some of the hot water splashed onto the dorsal aspect of my right hand. More than a half-cup spilled onto my bare flesh. The pain was unimaginably horrible; for the first time in years, I experienced an entirely new threshold of pain.

The event happened at work. Coincidentally, the room I work in happens to have little fridge with a little freezer so I was able to immediately grab something freezing and apply it to my wound.  Coincidence squared, I happen to work in a medical clinic, with top-notch dermatology doctors, so I was able to walk literally 2 feet out into the hall and grab a doctor that specializes in skin. What are the odds?

I was cussing and shaking and crying all at the same time. The pain was excruciating. I dashed out into the hall, running right into an MA and PA who were having a conversation about skin cancer excision techniques.  “I have an emergency here. Does anyone here happen to know anything about skin burns?” I wailed in agony.

Before I knew it I was escorted back to a room, lying on a bed and being administered Vicodin. Within a few moments the dermatologist had entered the room to assess my burn and trim away the peeling skin from my wound. Cold packs were applied and the medical attention I received from there onward was nothing short of superb. My hands could have not been in better hands. My hand continued to feel like it was on fire, but I was pleasantly amused by the irony—the intriguing coincidence of the situation. “We won’t need to send you to the emergency room,” the dermatologist reassured me. “Trust me, they wouldn’t be doing anything different—plus, we know a thing or two about skin here.”

Although my burns were nothing out of the ordinary—only 2nd degree— the experience was completely new to me and I couldn’t have possibly received speedier medical attention. Had I been in another location---say, on a backpacking trip in the Eagle Cap wilderness with my father and brothers, the situation could have been much worse.
My experience made me think about the concept/nature of coincidences.

Coincidences can happen and do happen.  No one would consider these events to be entirely out of the ordinary or something beyond the physical laws of nature.  Why, then, do we continue to be astounded by them?

From my laypersons’ perspective, I think we feel shocked by coincidences because we unwittingly think they should be less expected than two random events happening that have no meaningful connection to each other. We assume that meaningfully connected events will happen less frequently than non-meaningful, random events and so we may be more shocked when they happen.  Assuming that a non-coincidental situation occurs less often than a coincidental situation might serve to make us feel a sense of purpose—an over-arching, personal meaning that we extract from a coincidental experience when it does happen. Perhaps we might attribute the cause of the coincidence to God.  Or, we might attribute it to a universal, “knowing mind” that was aware of our condition and arranged the physical world around us to perfectly meet our current needs at the time.

In the book “Thinking Fast and SlowDaniel Kahneman points out “We do not expect to see regularity produced by a random process and when we detect what appears to be the rule we quickly reject the idea that the process is truly random.”

If we are honest, we should admit that there is no ultimate, grand-design or metanarrative behind coincidence. It might be reassuring to beguile oneself into thinking, “Everything happens for a reason”—a platitude I despise, by the way—but this really isn't so, is it? Sure, we might determine our own subjective reason or purpose behind a particular life event but there was nothing particularly transcendentally (objectively?) purposeful about an experience.

Let’s face the reality here. There wasn't an ultimate, supernatural reason why millions of Jews were killed under the Nazi regime or why millions of children raised in West African, Islamic households die of malaria each year.  There is? How could there be?

As a Christian, what could you possible say is the ultimate supernatural reason for these events—so these individuals could first suffer on earth and then ultimately burn in hell in the after life?

 Connecting the dots between phenomena might aid our survival in certain situations such as when we notice that the dots have meaningful applications to the quality (survival?) of our lives. For the most part, however, the dots are unrelated and we more often than not think particular patterns or stimuli are significant when they are not.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dealing with a HOMELESS GIRL, my experience

Last night I was sitting at a coffee shop, busily scribbling down thoughts for a potential blog post. Suddenly, I felt a “tap tap tap” on my back. For a split second I felt a twinge of familiarity from the presence—as if I knew it, “Why else would someone be tapping on my back if not to say hi?” A millisecond later, I realized I’d never seen her before, but there was still a feeling of warmth and familiarity.  “I need your help” she began.  “Would you like a ride, because I can help you with that” I said abruptly, cutting her off before she asked for money.  “What I need is a place to stay. I’m trying to get enough money to pay for a motel to stay in tonight.”  

 I needed to know more about her situation. In the past I had experienced rejection and temporary homelessness in my life, so my psyche was pricked.  I asked a series of questions. In the end I discovered that she and her boyfriend had been homeless for six months and had been living outside, on the streets or in various parks or shrubby areas for most of it. Her boyfriend of 3 years was an electrician, who had lost his job and his house and everything else a couple years ago.  After over-staying their welcome with family and friends, they had finally been forced to live on the streets.

 Although I have seen plenty of homeless people, I never had bothered to interrogate them or get to know about their situation. It is always easier to just make a general conclusion and dismiss someone when you don’t know all the facts—not asking specific questions about a situation will ensure wrongful judgment.  Most people, it seems, won’t be bothered by needy people and I got to witness this as I drove her to various places that evening to beg. I told her that she could come and sleep at my place if she needed a place to sleep for the evening but she declined. Although I did cave in and give her $10 bucks (and transportation to other places to beg) I felt somewhat helpless as I wasn't going to be able to give her $50 for her hotel stay that evening.

I discovered that one of the best places to beg is a gas station at 10:30 pm on a weekend night. A venue such as this has a constantly changing atmosphere with lots of people carrying cash. Several people offered her a dollar or two. Some guys asked her for her phone number but refused to give her a dime. One guy actually asked her, “What can you do for me for $40 bucks?" She was a 25 year old and quite attractive, might I add. She told me that she was very numb to it all. She was acclimated to the ridicule and the abusive treatment of others. When you are homeless, it seems like you are treated as an inferior human being. Your positive rights are greatly diminished.

She and her boyfriend were both able-bodied and young but they had clearly been making every effort to improve their living situation.  He would take day jobs at Labor Ready when they were available, she would offer cleaning services or any other service that could bring in a couple bucks. Once she dumpster dived for another couple and took out all the cardboard so that they could take it to a recycling plant and make a little money from it.

They would often beg and she mentioned that sometimes you can make a decent daily wage by “signing” (apparently holding up a “anything helps” sign at a stop light or intersection).

That night I learned a lot about what it means to be a homeless person. It was an interesting experience spending an evening with her and attempting to help her out.