When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
My dad has been going through a lot lately. While I may have spent three months at the Merchandise Mart, my dad had worked there for over thirty years before being laid off just weeks before I started Code Academy. Then there was the biking accident.
My dad was in a biking accident today and suffered a concussion. Thankfully, he is still insured despite having been laid off months ago. My dad has worked so hard for us over the past thirty years. I can’t help but feel that the shit that has been happening to him is not fair.
After the accident, he was up and moving immediately, but mentally confused. He couldn’t answer questions about the world correctly and he was worried about missing work the next day. After thirty years, work was the one thing he did remember.
Dad spent four days in the hospital, slowly recovering. Thankfully, I was able to see him leave the hospital in charge of his mental facilities, but he left full of bruises and hobbled by his injuries. At 56, my dad doesn’t bounce back the way he used to.
During his ordeal, I spent a lot of time worrying that he would never be the same. I worried that the traumatic blow to the head would alter him forever, whether from physiological damage or just a change in behavior. My dad has always been my hero – the adventurer, the troublemaker, the Monkey King on a Journey to the West from the far off rainforests of Burma. If he were to lose that sense of adventure, I would be heartbroken.
We still don’t know what long term effects the accident will have, if any. But what happens if there are? What happens if my dad starts staying inside instead of remaining his normal, active self? What happens if he doesn’t find a new job? What happens if my mom’s business goes through another bad spell? Why does this happen to my dad? Why aren’t we more prepared? Why can’t I provide any support for my parents in their times of need?
I’ve been stressing out pretty bad lately.
Surprisingly, I gained a little respite through a programming exercise. Immediately after Code Academy ended, I started doing Ruby Koans to brush up on my skills. The Ruby Koans are a series of 280 short tests of your Ruby programming knowledge. Each one is intended to be failed, reevaluated, and then passed as a means of learning the Ruby language. Error messages are key to understanding both the test and Ruby itself.
I quickly discovered aspects about Ruby that I didn’t understand. Just as the koans intended, I had to meditate upon the meaning of the the error messages before I could pass each test. I also discovered that I spent an inordinate amount of time asking myself “why” this was happening. But it wasn’t a curious “why,” nor was it an exploratory “why.” It was an indignant, frustrated “why”. It was an angry “why” that robbed me of clarity and peace of mind.
Asking “why” was a distraction, an unnecessary indulgence. I had to accept the facts. Jeff, the instructor at Code Academy, liked to say that whenever he and the computer got into an argument, it was always the computer who won. It was pointless to contest this, because the computer is nothing but a machine, reacting the same way to the same inputs. Asking “why” before accepting the facts simply confused me.
After realizing this, I was able to see the test with new eyes and pass it. I began to realize that it accepting the facts was a lesson that applied to more than just programming. The facts of life are that my dad will change, regardless. He will age, become less able to explore mountains and rivers with us, and so will I. And if he has been changed by the accident, there is nothing I can do about it. But one thing will remain true; I will continue to love him, anyway.
Like the Ruby programming language, life is consistent, even though I may not comprehend it immediately. When something goes wrong in life and I’m trying to understand what it means, it pays to take a deep breath, look at the facts, and start by accepting.