Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Zone of All Probability

Have you ever had one of those days that is so horrible --- just one bad thing after another --- that you arrive at a point when you think that nothing worse could possibly happen?  And then something worse happens?

Have you ever felt your tether to your own tragic reality break at that point, not in the sense of having a nervous breakdown or anything, but such that you no longer feel any sadness, fear, anxiety, or any other negative emotion, neither at the wreckage of the day already laid waste in front of you nor the possibility of yet another bad thing improbably finding its way into your universe?  You go from panicked and depressed to completely calm in a blink.

I have days like that periodically, and I had one of them yesterday. I felt that little "snip" in my brain when my thoughts go from "ACK THIS IS A TERRIBLE DAY" to "Of course this other terrible thing has happened, how entertaining."

Every time that happens to me, I think about this passage from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which just so perfectly captures that feeling:

I pull up to a light, next to a bunch of young black kids.* Maybe they’ll shoot me. I’m in the zone of all probability. I cannot be surprised. Earthquakes, locusts, poison rain would not impress me. Visits from God, unicorns, bat-people with torches and scepters–it’s all plausible. If these kids happen to be bad kids, and have guns, and want to shoot people like me, it will be me, the glass will break and the bullet will come through and I will not be surprised. With the bullet in my head, I will drive my car into a tree, and as I am waiting to be pulled from the wreck, nearly dead, I will not panic or yell. I will think only: Weird, this is exactly what I expected.

Here's to a new day.

*  ETA, in response comments expressing alarm at this passage: To be clear, this passage is a piece of literature.  In the context of the book, the passage is discussing completely crazy and improbable things happening.  As the author describes it, the likelihood of kids shooting him in the head just because they are black is crazy and improbable, and in the broader context of the book is not a statement on race (i.e., it is not a commentary that young black kids shoot white people), but is rather sort of a tongue-in-cheek jab at perceptions of race.  I encourage you to read more about the book, the author (who does an impressive amount of work with youth in under-served communities), or to read the book itself (not an affiliate link).  It is a fantastic piece of storytelling and one of my favorite books.  If you're upset (or not upset) by the passage, I encourage you to discuss it in the comments.  Hopefully folks who have actually read the book will chime in as well on either side of that spectrum.

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