Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline

This page written circa 17 January, 2005.

I have been scanning photographs from 1979. I expect that a photographic summary of that year will appear in due course in the Photo Gallery, so I shall not dwell upon the content here. In parallel I have been emailing photos to various people, asking and Googling after others, and exchanging reflections. It becomes clear to me that 1979 was a year I made choices that I might regret.

Nicholas told me a while ago that he bumped into Tom Jennings who had been our high school chaplain. To Nick's surprise, and mine, not only did he recognise and remember us, but this fellow thanked Nick for being part of discussions that Nick, Tony K and I had with him some 30-odd years ago, and which helped him arrive at the decision to give up his beliefs, and his career in the church. So we talked a chaplain out of believing in God, no mean feat.

As it happens, I remember those discussions, but for another reason. I came to understand a very important, three-part rule of life. It goes like this: What you hold to be "right" or "good" is decided with reference to your own, private value judgements, or simply "values"; your values are assumptions, preferences, unprovable assignments of worth that you devise or adopt in the light of what you believe about the world; all arguments that conclude successfully are resolved either by one party agreeing that they were wrong and the other right, or by the matter being brought down to differences in the values of the parties. If it comes to this latter point, the parties must "agree to disagree", and hopefully respect the other's right to their view.

To regret one of those serious decisions, one of three conditions must occur: One must have made the decision badly in the light of one's values; or one's values must have changed between the decision and the regret; or one might have made the decision based on incorrect information. In 1979 my values seemed to me to be settled. I knew what I believed to be good and right and valuable. I made decisions according to those values. Over the last three decades my values have drifted only a little, I think. (Commentators may disagree.) I was not selfish enough for my own good then, I was too trusting; a sucker for a defection in the Prisoner's Dilemma of life.

During one set of exchanged reflections with a person who figured in the photos I scanned, I was surprised to be told (approximately) "I love my kids at least as much as you love yours, but I hate those times when [spouse] goes out and leaves me with them". This was just what I had been thinking these past few months! What a relief to know that I am not alone. I detest times when Kay leaves me with both Edwin and Merinda to go to a school committee meeting or some such. I can handle being left with one at a time, but they compete for my attention so crudely and vehemently when together that I loathe the experience. It is bad enough with one if I want to concentrate on something for myself, rather than them. I have been driven to fondly remembering life in my apartment when I could lock the whole world out. I plan that my next car must have at most 2 seats so I can never be forced to carry both of the blighters at once.

Well, I had been seriously wondering if having kids might have been a decision I would end up regretting. I have wondered this before. It is a closer call than most parents would have you believe... but few people care to contemplate or admit they might have made a serious mistake in their life-decisions. Tom Jennings had courage. Many a parent is at pains to emphasize the positive aspects to an audience. My friend Dan seems to me far more naturally a parent than I. Still, in a year or so he will have two articulate, mobile children and thus I predict he will be put to the test.

"You spent your whole life trying to train crows to fly underwater?", an interviewer puts to Peter Cook's character in some comedy. "Yes." he replies. "So your life has been a failure, a complete waste?". "Yes, quite. They drown, you see." I do not regret my kids; in truth they are wonderful to be with, especially one-to-one. This irritation is a Winter thing. And what of decisions in 1979? Some recent scannings from the archives cannot be posted en clair, so, dear reader, you will have to wait and follow the clues with the photos.

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