The age old question of where forces beyond my control

The age old question of where forces beyond my control are moving me around this life like a pawn on a chessboard, vs. I am totally responsible for everything. I used to have this theory running that each decade of your life, you grow more and more responsible for everything until in your 40s you are almost 100% responsible, and then after that, it starts to drop off again:

0-10: 5% responsible
10-20: 25% responsible
20-30: 50% responsible (yes you are legally an adult who can be prosecuted as an adult but you are still recovering from all of the forces that messed you up in childhood/teenagehood that you had no control over)
30-40: 75% responsible
40-50: 95% responsible
50-60: 75% responsible
60-70: 50% responsible
80-90: 25% responsible (because most people have greatly diminished mental and physical functions that are beyond their control, and often need a lot of help from others)
90-100: 5% responsible

It more or less seems to make sense and work most the time, except when the whole “how do you make God laugh? show Him your plans” joke meets you head-on.

Also, it bears mentioning that I speak from the vantage point of a white male, mostly middle class, living through the most wealthy eras of my country’s history, where my country has mostly been the top dog on a global scale.

Someone living in another country, or living as a person of color or woman, may not have the resources to manage outside forces that generally try to suppress them.

What’s more, there is a small percentage of people in the world who are wealthier than me, and arguably have even more control over their lives than I do. When I want to visit Europe, I have to dream about it for years, save money, and then finally go for a very limited time on a limited budget. Richer people just get up and go and travel as they please. That’s just one example.

However, for the most part, I get to do what I want as a 41-year-old man. There is, in fact, nothing preventing me from learning how to play the stock market and going off to be a hedge fund manager, taking or leaving my family with me, and generally being whatever kind of asshole I like.

Yet–and this is where it gets tricky–I am limited by any number of factors that revolve around a sense of empathy, moral duty or perhaps fear of life after death. If I were to do something so assholish as walk away from my family to be a Donald Trump type character living in New York, I have the sense of pain that my family would experience by my actions, a sense of my own conscience being violated by my actions, and a fear of burning in hell or being reborn as a junkyard dog for treating people like shit.

These factors that weigh heavily on my decisions to work a shitty office job that pays a decent salary, live in the suburbs, stay in Texas, etc. are factors that could arguably be said to be just as limiting of my percentage of responsibility, thereby making my above table of percentages unrealistic, inaccurate or at least only partly describing some dimensions of my existence. Yes, as a 41-year-old man, I should be held more accountable than a 10-year-old boy, but legally, I am held as accountable as a 21-year-old young man, if not more so (in the reality of how any court verdict would actually play out–yes, there is the divider for being prosecuted as an adult vs. minor, but a jury/judge are likely to have less sympathy for a 41-year-old man exposing himself downtown than some college joe).

At any rate, most of this seems rather trite, at least as I’ve explained it so far. Where it becomes more interesting to me is in the demons that I wrestle with every day, that seem to sometimes have more control over me than I do–temper, lust, acedia, etc.

Putting up a real (fake, but large) Christmas tree for the first time since that one Christmas of 2000 that was pretty bad.

Little table one with my wife wasn’t the same, and I never had one after G and I split up.

To have it, and have my son finally be of an age where he understands Christmas–this is one of life’s highlights. When my life is weighed in the balance, I will probably come out about zero in terms of being a good or bad person. Hopefully, most of the bad stuff I’ve done will be balanced out by the good, but probably not any more than just to set me back to zero. But, when it comes to the good stuff that happened to me vs. the bad, I think the bad will overwhelmingly be remembered, except for little moments like this one.

Random memory of a lady at UW who clearly had a crush on me, except it seemed we could never make it happen quite right. We went running together, and I brought my dog, and my dog T would get excited and try to jump on people she really liked, which weren’t many. T really liked E, but E snarled at me and said “you need to train your dog.” That pretty much killed my perception of E being someone I would even want to continue talking to.

Fast-forward almost seven years, and I was flying up to Columbia on a spiritual journey to see the town through a completely different pair of eyes–minus the old drinking crew–just alone and contemplative and boring. I saw on Facebook that E was flying up to a wedding in Columbia–not hers, I don’t think. I know she went to Trinity in SA same as my wife, so maybe it was her husband’s home town–who knows? I didn’t say anything to her, since we hadn’t communicated with each other in seven years. But then, based on the picture of her husband and some of the pictures she’d posted of her family, I realized that her husband and her father were staying in the same hotel as me. I never saw her. I got on the elevator with them to go to the parking garage, and it was weird because her father said to her husband (or maybe fiance?)–do you want to ride with us, in a tone that made me think perhaps they still didn’t know each other that well.

Weird. It was weird because I had no idea she was going to be in Columbia the same time as me until I was reading random Facebook stories. What’s more, I was surprised to only encounter the people who would have had no idea who I was, but I knew who they were.

The memory just popped into my head–it’s neither here nor there. I don’t assign any meaning to it, other than perhaps when I die and go up to the afterlife, I’m going to see a million ways that I was connected to other people and never knew about it, and a million ways that I should have been more connected and engaged with others, but missed those opportunities.


People who get your jokes/sense of humor. When it happens, you are always a little shocked.

I tend to constantly run a low-grade series of mild snark and silly jokes and puns with anyone, and the sarcasm can be heightened in a playful way when I get especially mad at someone. What I often discover though, is that people will not get my jokes or they will get them but not think they are funny. It’s always a bit of a shock when someone laughs at my humor or tells me they think I’m funny. It’s like the left hand has forgotten what the right hand was doing for so long that even I have forgotten that I am really cracking jokes and not being serious in my edginess most of the time. Or, more to the point, I am being ironic and poking fun at myself for being over-the-top upset about trivial things.

Back in the days of working at UW, I think things were the worst. I was desperate to land a joke or say something funny that people would get and folks would take me seriously and often seem utterly put off by the lot of it. For example, I volunteered to help process mail donations, and we received a solicitation from the March of Dimes, and I walked up to the person who had trained me and asked how we were supposed to record this “donation” of ten cents. She actually took me seriously, and started explaining in-depth the procedure again, and seemed completely incapable of seeing the humor that lay before us.

Lately, though, things seem to have gone back in this direction. I was surprised to hear some of my coworkers say that they thought I was funny. It never occurred to me that there were people who were actually getting my jokes. At home, I sometimes feel as if I am Sisyphus, forced to forever push my humor boulders up hills where they never quite make it over the top and land on the other side. Should I stop trying to be humorous altogether? The thought has often crossed my mind. The nature of what compels me is probably similar to what drives people to gamble. I keep believing that one day there will be a payoff and I will make some person really and truly laugh at something in a way that tells me they find it just as funny as I do. For that reason, I keep this low-grade, joke cracking mechanism turned on in my state of grim desperation that anticipates the possibility of the magical payoff day.

Of course, there are no laughs, even from the people who have told me I am funny. If I have been at times accused of not registering enough emotion or even insinuated as being somewhat Aspergers-y in my ability to read other people’s emotional cues and give readable emotional cues, I would argue that pretty much all people play their cards too close to the vest at times.

Random memory popped into my head of a time at UW when I’d discovered a giant old cell phone that someone had left in a desk. I picked it up and brought it to some coworkers who seemed like they would find it at least mildly amusing to hear me talking into it as if I was some kind of 80s-90s deal-making asshole on a big old cell phone. There was some mild amusement at the sight of the phone itself, and then clear bristling at my continued attempts to try to bring laughter by impersonating some 80s dickhead. I think in that case one of the princesses actually sniffed at me to just stop it. That particular individual, strangely enough, popped back into my life once this past year when she was looking at the chapel where she and her husband got married–the chapel at the seminary I was at up until August. She hadn’t changed a bit–she was in such a hurry that you could tell she didn’t want to exchange more than five words of pleasantries with me.

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