Mr. Jones’ Algebra

Some days you get tiny reminders. Like yesterday, for example. As we are driving home, my husband shares with me this story as told to him by our mutual friend.

Husband: Do you know Mr. Jones? You know, the one that developed that project on the south side of Downtown?

Me: Yes, I think I remember that name.

Husband: Well, Kevin (our mutual friend) went to visit him this afternoon for a scheduled meeting and Mr. Jones had to apologize and push him off for another day. Kevin said he looked very worried and stressed. He said he was just “too buried in work.” So they agreed to meet another time.

Me: Yea. And?

Husband: Mr. Jones died of a heart attack on his desk one hour later.

Me: No shit?

Husband: Yea, can you believe that? Dead. On a normal day, while sitting at his desk. Stressed out about the next this or that. Heart attack. Goodbye.

Me: [no words]

Husband: He had a wife and little kid.

Me: [no words with a blank look]

Me: No shit?

We sit there in silence for a few minutes.

Admit it, you are reading this and fighting the urge to judge my lack of vocabulary. You envy my keen ability to deliver thrilling and well-articulated answers within this marital discourse. To avoid your wrath, I shall quickly change the subject and return to this story in a minute.

Are you good at math? I am clearly no genius, but I can solve a riddle or two if given adequate time, copious amounts of scratch paper and a smart person to my left. Simply use the logic side of this noggin, right? For many, including myself, there is comfort in simple formulas. You see, math rules because it has so many rules. Like Algebra, for example. So many X’s and Y’s and those sexy commutative, associative and distributive properties.

Or perhaps consider the simple rules we (Americans) are taught as we grow from tots to train wrecks. They make them simple so they are as easy to follow as 1-2-3.

Do this. Get that. Repeat. Die.

Or if you prefer…

Learn. Work. Earn. Buy. Consume. Save. Retire. Die.

Simple, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. (Please excuse the pun here)

I recognize that in our shared journey down this rather unimaginative and well-trodden path, we all become racked with fear and worry. This worry sometimes comes in the form of various questions that keep us from sleeping at night and hold us in place, even if we are in the wrong place. Will it be enough? Does my kid go to the right school? Will my friends think me successful? What is the balance in my 401K? Are my boobs sagging? (wait, maybe that one is just me) It is worry and fear that keep us from happiness. We fear losing what little or much we may have gained so far along the Monopoly board of life. So we just keep humming along, following the formula and stressing about the next this or that.

Recently, I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Washington D.C. and met a fellow business traveler who reminded me of a quote often attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, but actually written by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune:

“Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”

Algebra equations by chewing bubblegum. Now that’s genius. But as Mr. Jones found out this afternoon, it’s the things that you don’t know to worry about that end up eating your lunch. He and his lovely family learned that there are no guarantees and, to state an obvious cliché, the future is most uncertain.

So from my crazy brain to yours, go live now. Worry if you must, but realize that it is futile and a colossal waste of your energy and time. Shake things up a bit. Turn it all on its head and see what falls out of the pockets of your life. And most importantly, depend more on faith than formulas because you never know what might blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.


6 Comments on “Mr. Jones’ Algebra”

  1. Good blog that’s hit home with me. Seems the older I get and the more I do to “get ahead” in life, the deeper I get mired in worry about paying for this n that, if I made the right decisions, what I…., are my kids happy?, is my wife happy?, am I happy? Etc, etc ad nauseum. Literally ad nauseum. I think the real red flags popped up a few years ago when I noticed more people in my life beginning a request for help with something with “I know you don’t have time but -or- I know how busy you are but…”
    Since when did people I love think I was too busy for them? Since I started chasing the rabbit full time so to speak in dropping out of one successful but low paying career to go back to school to try a new slightly better paying career. And I thought we’d figured out a simple life can be a great life. Yep, worry is a beast that regularly stalks me in bouts of insomnia. Thanks for the words of encouragement. You spoke to my struggle.

  2. Mayra Rangel says:

    Wow! I have no words, and yet so much to say…THanks for sharing Amber…

  3. Maria C. Gracia says:

    Amazing and so true!
    I guess se all should try to live by the words sung by Bobby McFerrin…”Don’t worry be happy” and enjoy the simple pleasures. Thanks!!!

  4. Josh R says:

    Agreed – Every emotion is a message! Emotions generate thoughts. It’s up to us to “tune into the message.” Emotions it is said are currents of energy that run through our minds and bodies. We can change and transform those emotions, and thougths…such as worry, by recognizing the message as experiences that we allowed in through our senses. By changing the way we “process the message” – or see it from a different frame of relevance and reference, we can change. If we can recognize through faith that our emotion really is a message to us from our soul – what would we change? Thanks Maria – and other messengers!!

  5. Roiana Buckmaster says:

    Thanks, I needed this. For a very dear friend of mine their ‘idle Tuesday literally was yesterday (Tuesday July 3). As I sit struggling with the inconceivable-ness of what blindsided us all yesterday I came across your post. It helps. I am grateful.

    • Roiana,

      I am so very, very sorry for our loss. It fils my soul to know that the thoughts I put here helped you, even if in the most minute way. This sounds cliché, but the pain of your loss will eventually lessen. As it does, I hope what replaces it is serenity and a zest for life.

      Live fully and with a smile.


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