Being part of a family is a wonderful thing. I don’t particularly mean to sound like a spoiled kid… but it feels so good when my parents are around to take care of like, everything! Don’t need to worry about the laundry, or when to start cooking dinner, or when all my appointments are. Don’t need to worry about paying any kind of rent or utility bills, or even be awake while commuting to anywhere.
A little over two months ago I broke off parts of my top front two teeth and realized just how important families can be.
The technical medical term is “chipped”, but in my case it’s really more accurate to say “broke”. I was rushing to get home and the green had just turned on across an intersection. I got out of the saddle on my commuter bike and shifted up a gear, and the next moment I was on the ground and my mouth was open. Someone thankfully was there and called emergency for me, they did all the funny questions like “What’s your name”, “Where are you”, and “What is the year” then sent me off to the hospital in an ambulance. Thankfully, I didn’t have any kind of skull fracture or anything else I needed to deal with – except my teeth. And the ambulance/ER bill.
Being away from home and not really knowing any dentists in the area, I waited for a week to go to one to reconstruct my teeth. If you’ve never heard about teeth troubles before, let me be the first to tell you – treasure them well. You don’t ever want them having problems. It was the second most painful experience I’ve had outside of gout, but that second one is basically limited to those who have the genes for such a problem. Short of surgery-room level anesthetics, you can do nothing about an exposed nerve in your mouth. Forget about difficulties in eating (size of pieces) and drinking (you have no suction power), you can’t even breathe. Do you realize that what you’re doing when you’re breathing is basically making wind at your lips? Right next to where, if you break your teeth, you have exposed nerves? It’s two months or so now and though I can breathe with my mouth again, I’ve basically been pavlovian-ly trained to only use my nose now. Even so, I still have problems eating cold things, can’t use my front teeth to do any real work, and they hurt pretty bad at random times.
At the time though, I was pretty amazed at the whole scene.
It all happened basically because I was abnormally excited and my bike was in poor condition. A girl somewhat important to me had been acting pretty badly towards me earlier in the day and another girl at the intersection blocked up all the bike traffic because she decided to wait until two seconds after the green light showed to start moving (standard is to start after the last car on the opposite side’s left-turn had passed). I had neglected to repair my bike, which had over the past year had more than one instance where the chain shifted off the high end. I learned basic bike maintenance and adjustments from getting a full carbon, but I never bothered to do the same for my commuter bike. I thought it’d just be fine if I always rode it gently. I was right – I wasn’t riding it gently that day.
My parents, who had all my life seemed like penny-pinchers on absolutely everything, who had all my life seemed to tell me that any time anything went wrong even in my general vicinity it’s my fault if I do nothing – suddenly just talked about massive bills like they were nothing. Where once upon a time they discouraged me from eating out with friends after school because food could be obtained for so much cheaper, they were suddenly treating $1,500 bills like it was nothing. “It happens”, they said. “Sometimes, you can’t avoid bad luck”, they said. I couldn’t even get pissed at the government or the health/insurance “industry” for ripping me off, or those girls for being unreasonable, or myself for being lazy. I couldn’t take a “this happened because of that” perspective.
I could only see “this happened – and not something worse, because of that“.
I got help because classmates I didn’t even know were friendly and bothered to take time out of their commute to help a stranger in need. I got to the hospital because at one time in history, communities helped out anyone in their care because the person was either one of their own or would travel back to their hometown and spread the word of the hospitality of this group of strangers (do you think that free medical care, even temporarily, would ever exist if the world developed from the current corporate world?). Then, I was able to within a week see a dentist 200 miles away from the site of my accident, a man I had never seen before, and have my teeth reconstructed the same hour I walked in. Then, I went back to school and was still able to keep up and get everything there back to normal relatively quickly.
That last one was because I had been doing many things and working ahead, but all the rest was because my parents were there and had created a buffer zone for me.
Ignore the whole logistics thing about timing (you can’t just buy insurance in the moment) and the cost (probably ~3k for everything), which to be sure are amazing in and of themselves – the important part was, such a thing was done. I’ve helped out strangers before too, but it was always under a literal “yeah, that was nothing, don’t worry about it” mindset. When I helped people out, it was really because such a thing meant nothing to me. It was always a matter of following orders which would’ve otherwise been given if the relevant person was on scene, or following any whims I had at the moment. Homeless asking for spare change? Sure, why not. Classmate needs a bluebook to take a final? I have extras.
There have always been those stories of random kindness floating around, but it never really struck anything in me. Having grown up with English as my second language, one of my main modes of learning about a social concept has been to observe people’s interactions to and outside of any given idea. What I saw were people who’d always talk about how the random immigrant family who stops over by you on the freeway to help you fix your flat were instances which restored their faith in humanity, who’d always talk about how all these stories change them but then turn around and say the most meaningless and retarded things in the most zealous of ways. When I tried it myself, I couldn’t see anything too great about it either.
Of course I couldn’t have. What would I relate it to? I’ve always been protected to such a high degree and my life was always so constant; how could there possibly be enough contrast for me to realize such a thing? How could I relate to the grateful feeling of being helped out while in need, when I was never really “in need”?
After these series of events leading me from really just a regular “bad” day to an actual bad day and all the way back to normal, though?
I can really say now that I can relate to those stories.
A little more on the cerebral side, this has also illustrated a few other things I’ve seen and read. A couple of years back I had read a lot about fraternal societies and how culture and business worked before the modern mass-production and mass corporate model but only really understood it from a detached structural point of view. But when I saw it again in this video, the stories about taking care of a friend of a friend meant a lot more to me. I’ve never liked accepting things just because other people accept them. It never made sense to me to do things just because it was “nice”. Why is it nice to do some things but not others? Why here, but not there?
My father had always told me stories about how our family had these and that practices, and still speaks of them with a kind of reverence. He’s Chinese, and he had lived in rural-ish China in his childhood – and there, “family” meant “extended family”. When he says “The [name] Family”, he doesn’t mean him + my mother + me + my siblings, he means the entire line. Not just his father + his mother + his siblings + their children, but his father’s “family” (my great-grandfather all the way down to “second cousins”), and his grandfather’s “family” (my great-great-grandfather all the way down to “third cousins”)… ad infinitum. Even people who were adopted or bought from slavery, were still counted as part of the family.
I had always treated this with the standard dry and rote leftist response: Oh that’s nice, you have a different culture.
Like it’s arbitrary choice, choosing orange flavored ice cream over chocolate. Like all cultures are equal. Like it really doesn’t matter.
[…] Understanding the marriage bond as an irreversible covenant similarly influences the way economic activity and property are understood. Rather than being a series of short-term responses to circumstance, labor and investment become an aspect of family life transcending the natural life span of any individual. From a mere means to consumption, wealth becomes a family inheritance. In Burke’s fine words: “The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tends most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue; it grafts benevolence even upon avarice.” By contrast, the characteristically modern view of property finds its clearest expression in the title of a bestselling 1998 financial planning guide: Die Broke.
– F Roger Devlin, “Home Economics“
It matters. I don’t want to throw out any insults anymore to people who disagree. I’ve done it in the past, but I don’t feel like it’s productive anymore – either in actually changing their minds, or just helping me better act and perceive reality. All I can say is that many things which people don’t think matter, really do. It matters.
It really, really does.