Escape Velocity

I hated growing up in Murray. As soon as I was old enough to realize that it was possible to leave, I made that my solitary goal. It pained me to see the look on my parents’ faces each time I made this proclamation, but I was absolutely convinced that if I was ever to become successful in life, I would need to situate myself elsewhere — someplace with a thriving tech industry that didn’t stop moving after 9 pm.

Now, here I am at 35 years old still living here and have yet to reach escape velocity. Quite the opposite, I’m actually finding fewer and fewer reasons to leave. You could say that I’m running out of thrust, to keep to my metaphor. To put it simply, I just speculate that I have more to lose than to gain by leaving. It’s simple economics.formula6

 

I’ve lost count of the other individuals I’ve encountered through life who’ve told a similar tale to mine — those who once also counted themselves among the despondent legions of Murray’s youth who vowed to leave this mire without so much as a rude gesture once they had the means. Of those who did manage to leave, the gravitational pull of this place inexplicably drew a good number of them back years later.

Those that haven’t returned yet? Give it some time.

I sometimes imagine that the phenomenon could be used as the main premise of a comedy film in the same vein as Groundhog Day or The Truman Show. I can already hear the trailer now: “Meet Fred, your average, everyday, normal guy. Fred just moved to Murray, KY, a seemingly normal, quiet town. But this particular town has a well-guarded secret. Once you settle there, you can never really leave.” The frightening thing is that those words could actually work for a horror movie as well.

This is a horror film disguised as a comedy.

This is a horror film disguised as a comedy.

... This too

… This too

The distinction between the comedy or tragedy of being bound to a location lends itself to an interesting behavioral experiment. Consider how the classic psychological test of whether an individual sees a glass of water as half full or half empty can purportedly be indicative of whether he or she harbors a optimistic or pessimistic worldview. I believe a similar test can be devised by asking individuals if being tethered to Murray is comedy or tragedy. Do they regard themselves as being blessed beyond measure, or do they feel that they are victims of terrible misfortune?

For the longest time, if you had asked me the Murray question, I would have answered that it was a series of poor decisions, mistakes, and bad luck that kept me rooted here. I would have also answered that God was punishing me somehow by keeping me here to atone for past sins. I spent many sleepless nights driving myself to madness by calculating “what if” scenarios. What if I had made a different decision or reacted differently to a given situation? Would my current lot in life had been any better?

The problem with this thinking is that those “better” potential outcomes would have inevitably led to other unknown potential outcomes. What may appear to have been a better decision in current hindsight may have eventually led to a catastrophic outcome. I am loath to admit it, but the film The Butterfly Effect (based on the eponymous concept in chaos theory) was instrumental in helping me understand this. We all sometimes wish for a chance to go back and change certain things about our past, but there is no guarantee that those changes would have made us any happier.

butterfly effect

Change one thing. Change everything.

Now logically, this all makes perfect sense to me. Emotionally, I’m still working on internalizing it. I have to occasionally remind myself that I am in Murray not by misfortune, but because that’s just how things worked out. Every time I wander into the dangerous thinking that my life should have turned out differently, I have to pull myself back out by reminding myself that things are exactly as they are meant to be.

I’ve been trying to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness to keep myself from going to such dark places in the first place. I have so many wonderful people in my life right now who either would likely not have existed or I would have never met if I had strayed from my path even a little. The thought of giving up those lives and relationships breaks my heart, so even if I was given the opportunity to go back and change things, I would be a fool to gamble away all that I have for some unknown alternative.

So am I glass-half-full kind of person or a glass-half-empty kind of person? In response, I ask, “What is wrong with just being okay with the fact that the glass just is?” Many countless happenings transpired to transform the glass and its contents to their current state. Some were events of nature and others were decisions made by people who were driven by many different motivations. I think it’s presumptuous for us to label the net sum of those happenings as fortunate or unfortunate, as we simply cannot comprehend how those happenings factor into the ultimate future of human existence.

full-glass

 

Instead of judging happenings as good or bad, fortunate or unfortunate, we have to remember that we can’t see the big picture of this thing called life. Or as Tolkien’s Gandalf the Grey so eloquently put it, “Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” We have to trust that since God is in control, everything will work out in the end for those of us who trust in Him and allow Him to direct our lives.Romans_8-28