By trade I am a Manufacturing Engineer. In the particular industry I work
in, that means I have to worry about very small things.
By small things, I mean small dimensions. Iíve spent a great deal of my
career arguing and fretting over product tolerances and defects that were
measured in a thousandth of an inch (1/1000"). For perspective, thatís about
1/3 the thickness of a human hair or sheet of paper. More recently, Iíve had
to sink lower, into the micron range. Thatís 1 millionth of a meter, or about
40 millionths of an inch. This is really beginning to plague me, when I
realize how far Iíve drifted from the seeing the larger things in life.
I have a recurring nightmare: Iím at the entrance to the Pearly
Gates, and St. Peter reads the Book of my Life. "Youíve spent far too much
time worrying about small things", he says; "Permission to enter denied".
Whereupon he holds up a placard with a bright red, downward pointing arrow. I
always wake up in a cold sweat, with a racing heart.
Itís the common Western philosophy that if something goes wrong, itís never
due to fate. Rather, itís from some personal failing, some inattention to
detail that led to the problem. I think this probably originated from Protestant Christian doctrine,
as ultimately expressed by the early 1900ís concept of Social Darwinism: If
you screw up and fail, itís a sign that you havenít passed muster in Godís
eyes; the people who donít screw up are blessed and are the Lordís
favored ones. Well, I can grant that for big, obvious screw-ups. But when
youíre dealing with 1/1000" Ė thatís a mighty tight margin for spiritual
error. If I cut a board ľ" too short, then shame on me. If I cut it 1/1000" or
even 40/1000000" too short, should I suffer the same perdition? Jeez, man,
thatís a really stressful situation to have to live with, every day.
Thatís not so bad, if you can leave work behind you at the end of the day.
But itís hard to shut it off. I sit here now and worry about small things
around the house, too. I imagine the well pump, operating without fail for
going on 12 years Ė what if that one grain of sand that just went into it is
the one that will finally bind it up? Or the next grain, or the next? Our well
water is extremely acidic, and because of that we had to replace our original
house water heater after only 8 years. I close my eyes and envision the
individual free H+ ions floating around in that tank, each launching its own
little vicious attack on the fittings and anode bar. Which one will finally
cause a breach? We have lots of cats running around here, with all manner of
cat hairs and litter dust floating through the air. They float through the
vents of our TV too, occasionally causing a terrifying POP! and a momentary
blank screen when one lands across two conductors that it shouldnít have. Will
the next floating hair fry the TV completely?
I worry about one tiny squirrel getting into the attic, chewing through one
tiny electrical wire, resulting in a "total loss situation". I worry about one
fireplace cinder too many, causing a flue fire and setting the roof ablaze. I
worry that one of our GFI electrical outlets has a manufacturing defect that
managed to sneak through QC inspection. I worry about lint catching fire in
our clothes dryer, about the expensive wire-reinforced water hoses feeding our
clothes washer capriciously bursting when weíre out of town, about one of the
wall bracket welds holding up our 75-lb RTRtm stereo loudspeakers
experiencing catastrophic metal fatigue just when Iím walking underneath it.
I worry about that one single cell somewhere in my body not dying like it
should, but rather beginning to reproduce madly and unendingly. I worry that
my epiglottis will decide to strut its stuff and snuff me in a final bout of
sleep apnea tonight. I worry that a few bytes of malicious code in an unwanted
web cookie will result in my life savings disappearing. I worry that the tiny
o-ring seal in the hydraulic cylinder that operates the rudder in the airplane
Iíll be boarding next week is about to give up the ghost.
And most of all, I worry about the million other small things to
worry about, that I havenít even thought of yet.