Given a One-in-a-Million Chance, Always Take the One

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This crisis, like any other crisis, reveals the inner-most souls of many. For some, that means sharing a brightness that exudes hope, honesty, and optimism. For others, it’s a darkness of depressing despair.

It’s a glass-half-empty/glass-half-full sort of thing. People are different. Sometimes it’s easier to hide those differences. Other times it’s not. We were already in one of those times when it’s not before the crisis hit. The crisis only makes it even more difficult to hide the secrets of our souls.

We see this national Rorschach Test being played out in the media – both social and traditional. The two came together recently in a group I belong to. It gave me pause to think. Not about the superficial issue the group was discussing, but about the underlying philosophy it entails.

On the face of it, the post mentioned an article that exposed how journalists and certain governors had to take back their earlier statements regarding the effectiveness of a certain drug to fight the disease ravaging the world.

President Trump several weeks ago brought up the idea of using the drug, long approved for other uses. Almost immediately, those most interested in defeating the incumbent rather than the disease resisted the idea of using this drug. Then, after anecdotal stories appeared showing real experiences of doctors effectively treating the disease with this drug, the FDA approved its use. Politicians and reporters reversed course.

This is the superficial aspect of the story. You can see the “pushmi-pullyu” back and forth of this debate. That may interest some. What should interest you, however, is what happens when you dig down deeper into this discussion.

One of the commenters, a medical doctor, explained the nature of the FDA approval process. He didn’t agree with the FDA’s quick approval.

Usually, even for a drug already approved for one purpose, the approval process requires extensive clinical trials.

These take time.

And we don’t have the time right now. The question is “Is it ethical to take a chance on an ‘untested’ drug when facing a grim alternative?”

This made me recall one of those belabored philosophy questions encountered in a classroom of my youth. You know the kind I’m talking about. It’s one of those “who do you sacrifice to save the others” kind of questions.

Except it was more personal than that.

I’m also pretty sure the teachers didn’t realize the true nature of their question when they asked it. At least that’s what I felt when it became apparent they were quite annoyed by my answer.

Perhaps to allow you to sympathize with their response, it’s best if I first set the stage.

This wasn’t a regular school class, it was a religious class. We didn’t call it “Sunday School” because it was held on Monday nights. We were in high school and religion wasn’t the first thing on our minds. In fact, being Monday night, we were always on edge to get home by 9:00 pm (EST) to watch Monday Night Football and listen to the playful banter between Howard Cosell, Dandy Don, and Giff.

Yes, it was a different world. But the question, and the subject it was addressing, has stood the test of time immemorial.

The subject was death and how we must all face it.

The question was “How would you respond if you were diagnosed with terminal cancer?”

The teachers were a middle-aged couple. No doubt this question had great import to them. They had lived long enough to know people who had died of cancer. They had seen how those people responded to their diagnoses. They had seen how their loved ones responded. They had seen how they, themselves, had responded.

So it was a natural question for someone of their age to ask.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it was an effective question for a bunch of football-crazed teens who would rather be somewhere else. After all, when you’re a teenager, you know you will live forever.

Yet, being the polite students we were (it was religious school, so we all had to be on our best behavior), we tried to answer in as serious a manner as possible given our naïve minds.

Around the room we went.

The girls – being girls – were much more sincere than the boys. All offered the kind of self-reflection the teachers intended the question to evoke.

The boys – being boys – didn’t do quite as well. Some tried to mimic the girls, but it didn’t quite come off as genuine. One, as expected, took a stab at joking about it, but the seriousness of the matter deflated his attempt. He crawled back and retracted his comment, tail between his legs, before repeating the same lame tripe stated by the person before him.

And then there was me. I could tell the question had depressed my peers. They weren’t thinking of Hail Mary passes and coffin-corner kicks. They were silent praying the Hail Mary and imagining their own coffins.

The topic was causing pain among my classmates. I also knew it was meant to cause pain. Still, I wanted to help. The challenge was, how do you help a dead man walking?

I had yet to know the term “think past the sale” (for all I know, the phrase may not have been invented yet), but that concept materialized in my mind.

“I understand we all have to die sometime, but has there ever been a time when someone with a terminal diagnosis has survived?” I asked the teachers.

“Why, yes, of course,” they had to admit. “But it’s very, very rare.”

“How rare?” I countered. I knew I had them. I was a chess player back then. In chess we called this a “knight fork.” No matter how the opponent moved, he was going to lose a piece.

The husband and wife team furtively glanced at each other. They were only volunteers. They were not trained professionals. This was not the way the question should be answered. They were torn between the intent of the lesson and the truth I was about to reveal.

“Uh, I’m not sure,” said the wife.

“Would you say it’s a one-in-a-million chance,” I quickly shot back. No, my mouth didn’t salivate at the sight of the prey. My mind, well, that’s a different matter.

“Yeah, sure,” said the husband as if to protect his wife. “Only one out of a million people survive a terminal diagnosis.”

“Then I’ll take the one!” I confidently stated.

Q.E.D.

Between the quick repartee and my self-assured assertion, the class’s outlook brightened immediately. They left that night with an extra kick in their step.

I lingered a bit to apologize to the teachers. I explained to them why I did what I did. They explained to me why they had to ask the question. I’m not sure either of us fully accepted the other’s explanation.

But I will endlessly stand by mine.

When there is but an ounce of hope, grasp it as tightly as you can.

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