My mother called tonight upset by some mail she had received from the office of her gastroenterologist. I joined her for an appointment with this doctor a couple of weeks ago, and while we were waiting, we had to fill out many pages of patient information. This initially upset her because the receptionist had asked if she had received it in the mail. When she said no, the receptionist handed her the packet and asked her to fill it out. My mother could not get past the idea that she should have received the packet in mail, for this is what the receptionist had implied should have taken place. If it should have taken place and did not, then, to my mother, something was wrong, something requiring an answer. Of course, there is no answer for this, and the lack of answer upset her more.
This weekend she received in the mail the same packet. To be sure, it contained a cover letter stating that if the appointment had already been held, then the patient could disregard the packet. She called me in quite a state of distress. Why had she not received it before her appointment? Why, once it had already been filled out, would she receive it again?
I think I calmed her down, but at the conclusion of the call I turned to my wife in realization of something. There is a cost of doing business in the modern world, and that cost is bullshit. Both of my parents and both of my wife's parents grew up in an age in which if someone said something, he did it. If someone asked you for something, you replied. An official letterhead indicated an important matter, one you to which you were obliged to respond with the seriousness it deserved. I realized how I have come to assume and live by the absolute conviction that none of the above is true.
Not only have I come of age in the last forty years, my profession is education, an environment neck deep in b.s. We are used to countless pieces of mail and endless emails that seem official in their style, but are nothing more than scams or a waste of time. We are used to an onslaught of useless information from even legitimate sources like our bank and creditors. News and politics are awash in b.s., although, admittedly, this may be nothing new. The only way we can navigate the modern world is to insulate ourselves, to operate with the foundational assumption about the world that upwards of ninety percent of it is pure crap, manipulation, and deception and that we will be the ones to determine, on our own time thank you very much, what, if any of it, we will meaningfully engage. Perhaps this is just the necessary survival mechanism in the information age or in an age that drifts ever further from God.
After the conversation with my mother, I have come to realize something else. While I do feel sorry for her, a widow in her mid-70s, I feel more sorry for the rest of us. She and her generation were right. A person should say what he means. A request should have a reasonable expectation of fulfillment. Official-looking documents should actually mean something. I live in a world where the underlying assumption is distrust. Hers was the opposite. In her day, people could trust each other, from neighbors trusting neighbors to citizens trusting their doctors, grocers, insurance agents, and schools. My mother's day is gone. Perhaps she will come to realize this and live a bit more easily in the modern world of bullshit. Then again, a part of me hopes she does not.