When we can't see the forest for the trees
Following the news this week — from the anticipation of COVID-19 vaccinations flowing from the federal government at Heinz ketchup speed; to the steady, if incremental, progress toward rebuilding our fire-ravaged communities; to the Okefenokee drudgery of the impeachment case trudging through the chamber of secrets known as the Unites States Senate — a couple of thoughts came to mind.
First and foremost I need to get a life.
But then I thought of my eighth-grade math class — in particular a surprise quiz sprung upon us one spring afternoon.
It was a one-question test, which our teacher would judge based not only on arriving at the correct answer, but with extra credit for how quickly it took us to get there.
With schools at long last beginning to open their doors, let’s take this moment to see what we’ve all learned from “helping” children with online classwork this past year, shall we?
You are at the edge of dark, foreboding forest that measures 1,280 yards across. Each day, you travel half the distance remaining to emerge on the other side.
How many days does it take for you to do so?
I’ve always had a knack for brain teasers — the sort of trick questions that Click and Clack, the Tapit Brothers called “puzzlers” on “Car Talk” — so the answer came to me, and a few other classmates, rather quickly.
While the remainder of the class was scribbling, erasing and ciphering the Clampett Theory of Gezzintos from 1,280 to 640 to 320 and so on, those of us who had caught on brought our papers up to the teacher’s desk.
How’d you do? I suspect that if you were in my eighth-grade math class, or had a teacher with a similarly mischievous bent, you saw the clue right away.
Each day, you travel half the distance remaining
No matter how much of the forest remains between you and your exit, as with the Hotel California you can never leave. You’ll always only be half as close to exiting as you were the day before, even if it’s but an inch.
That’s a long way of saying that, on some days, it feels as though we’ll never get out of the woods when it comes to the pandemic, the wildfires or the political divisiveness exemplified by what’s going on in Washington.
Then again, none of those is a puzzler that can be solved with pencil and paper — and, let’s be honest, how many of the future leaders of our county, state or nation are using such rudimentary tools in eighth-grade math classes these days?
Nope, we just want to wake up some day and have these real-world problems solved overnight. Or discover this past year has been nothing more than a bad dream.
It’s not our fault, actually, if we feel as though the only ones who can commiserate are Puddleglum, Eeyore and Charlie Brown.
We might want to cast aspersions at Mother Nature, medical mysteries or “the swamp,” but the true Machiavelli behind our malaise is, as always these days, easily recognized.
Yep, the same forces that allow us to solve math problems in moments have conditioned us intellectually and emotionally to expect solutions, if not immediately, at least much faster than it’s happening.
What do we want (name your objective).
When do we want it NOW!
The trouble with that is, life is much more like my eight-grade math teacher. Life wants us to “show our work” and cipher each and every gezzintos — crossing our eyes and dotting our T’s every step of the way.
We might be confronted with what appear to be insurmountable opportunities (to hop on this Pogo schtik even longer), but if we’ve lost sight of our objectives, the answer is to redouble our efforts.
In times like these — as if many of us have ever been through them before — maybe the metaphor to what teases our brains can be found in the answer to another well-known forest-related question.
How far can you walk into a foreboding forest?
Only halfway, of course; and once we recognize that point ... we’re simply walking out.
The Bad Joke Interpreter at firstname.lastname@example.org is Nadia Geddit.