When I baked as a little kid, I refused to let the batter go into the oven until I’d flattened it. I would stop my mom from trying to put it the oven, take a spatula to flatten the batter, and claim that flattening it would make it taste better.
It's weird, I know.
I’m still not sure where that came from, but I know this: I like having control. I remember resonating with Emily in the "Pretty Little Liars" books when she would watch the cars go by and think “if the next car is red, then ___ will happen.”
Our brains like to make and find patterns in the world -- it makes us feel safer. We know so little in comparison to the intricacies of the world and bodies we live in, and that can be scary. We want to feel like we know, like we understand, like we have some small bit of control.
In my statistics class in high school, we played with the random number generator on our calculators. If a certain number kept coming up, we guessed that same number would come next; however, our teacher had to keep reminding us that another number has just of an equal chance. Logically, it made sense, but I found it hard to not still guess that same number. After all, it had just an equal of a chance as the other numbers, right?
But what happens if the next car is blue? Or if the car is red but something unexpected happens? What if we put our trust and control in something that doesn’t happen, that lets us down? What if we make the wrong decision and intense complications arise?
I’ve been watching a lot of "Grey's Anatomy" lately and thinking about these questions often. I’ve seen episode after episode where patients die -- sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes not, sometimes because a doctor makes a mistake, sometimes because the initial injury was just too severe. Sometimes, the doctors are sued by grieving family members who don’t agree with the doctor and blame him or her for their loved one’s death.
How do those doctors deal with that? How do they forgive themselves when they mess up and people die? How do they come to terms with the fact that they don’t have full control, even when they think they do?
While I’ve never found myself in such a position, I have made choices I wish I didn’t. I’ve dealt with consequences and regret and shame -- we all have. We aren't perfect and life isn't fair. I blame other people; I blame myself. I find regret terrifying.
When we encounter these moments, we have to learn to be understanding of ourselves. Our past experiences bring us to where we are. Difficult, scary, urgent decisions confront us, finding us left to our own devices. Decision-making isn’t easy, especially under pressure and false trust and past pain.
That’s how Dr. Shepherd from "Grey's Anatomy" does it. Without giving spoilers, I can tell you this: he trusts his decision, his knowledge, his gut feelings. To the best of his ability, he holds strong in those facts and knows he must move on and move forward to continue saving lives.
I think of a Wendell Berry quote from "Criminal Minds": “The past is our definition. We may strive with good reason to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it. But we will escape it only by adding something better to it.”
When we mess up, we have to remember the future holds good decisions, good luck, better options, better days. It holds successes rather than failures, and reminds us that failures are just learned experiences.
After all, as C.S Lewis said, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”