40. The Control Mirage

The other day I had to shake my head as I watched a video news clip on television. A foolish old man in a black mask had left his hospital room to wave frantically to well-wishers from a limousine. Then he returned to his hospital room.

It was his way of showing that he controlled the SARS-CoV-2 virus, not the other way around. When he had himself discharged from the hospital the next day, he made it seem as if he was the only human on the planet who had recuperated from Covid-19 illness in three days.

The display was so absurd it was totally unconvincing. It has even infuriated a large swath of people who have first-hand experience with the novel corona virus.

Sure, we all like to think that we have some control over our lives. We figure that, if we follow certain rules, adopt particular attitudes, or line up people and events just so, everything will fall into place as we want.

The older I get, the more I realize how childish that mindset is. To exercise that type of control requires being blind to – and unprepared for – the randomness of human behavior, of weather, of viral outbreaks, of debilitating illness, etc. We look around and it seems that a lot of people exercise a lot of control over their lives or over us. But then something out of the blue happens and that control shows itself for what it really is: an illusion, a mirage, a lie we tell ourselves.

Attempts to control often result in absurd behavior that leaves us scratching our heads and asking, “What is wrong with this person?”

Once, my wife agreed to go with her co-worker/friend Jen to a birthday party. Jen was a tall, elegant woman with a warm personality. She was attractive and dressed well. The party was for Elliot, whom Jen knew from another job. They had remained friends and stayed in touch. Elliot’s girlfriend, Lenore, had organized the party, which was held at a community meeting hall.

The place was packed with people. Elliot was the only person Jen knew, and Jen was the only person my wife knew. When Elliot introduced my wife and Jen to Lenore, she was unable to hide the shock, or was it disapproval, behind her frozen smile and cold eyes. My wife figured that Lenore had heard of Jen but had not expected her to be at the party. How was Lenore going to explain the appearance of her boyfriend’s lovely friend to the others?

There was much music, dancing and laughter that evening, but my wife and Jen felt like fish out of water. Their attempts to mingle failed. None of the other women seemed interested in knowing them. Whenever one of the men would strike up a conversation with Jen, his female companion was sure to draw him away on some pretext. My wife and Jen took it all in stride. My wife surmised that Jen had expected that type of behavior and had persuaded my wife to accompany her so that she would not be alone in a somewhat hostile environment.

The topper was the meal. Lenore had arranged the food on a couple of long tables that had been pushed together. When it came time to eat, the guests naturally lined up, grabbed plates and utensils and began ladling chicken, potatoes, and the rest onto their plates. “No, no, no, no, no!” yelled Lenore as she rushed behind the tables. She grabbed a ladle out of a guest’s hand and said, “I’ll do that.” Lenore then proceeded to spoon out food to the guests, one by one, a long, slow process.

On the ride back, my wife and Jen had a good laugh.

Some years later, my wife was at another party, this one hosted by a woman she knew from an organization to which they both belonged. In the course of a group discussion, my wife (still single at the time) realized that she had some interest in common with the husband of the hostess. My wife and this man began conversing enthusiastically about their common interest. He was from another country, was very knowledgeable, and had an interesting perspective on the subject.

Suddenly, the hostess appeared by his side and reminded him to do something or other. She faded back into the crowd, her eyes still trained on her man. He sighed and said, “My wife, for some reason she feels the need to remind me that we are married.”

Control This! – Mt. Vesuvius, Italy courtesy of “Anton”

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