Dead End


There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

Oh yippee. Now that’s an encouraging thought. There you are, doing what you think is the right thing and—whammo—deadsville. The wrong exit. Outta luck, bucko.

When I was a kid I hated taking those standardized tests where you read the questions out of a booklet and had to choose the correct answers by filling in a sheet of little ovals with a number 2 pencil. (It had to be a number 2 or something terrible would happen to you, which I never found out since I was freaked out enough to always have a handful of number 2’s on me.) The teacher would click her stopwatch and say “Begin” and you’d have to rip open the sealed question booklet knowing you had only so much time to finish up before the dreaded “Stop” and had to put down your number 2 even if you had a bunch of empty ovals left. The strategy was to skip over hard questions and go back to them later if you had time. So I remember doing that, thinking I was doing exactly what I was supposed to do, except that when I reached the end I would have either too many questions or too many empty ovals left over which meant that I had somehow screwed up and didn’t even know it. So I frantically went back to where I thought I’d made the mistake which sometimes I couldn’t find and even if I did I would have to erase the mistake and fill in the right oval but that would mean that I had to do that for each of the following lines in order to get the ovals all filled in right which was confusing itself and compounded more since I was running out of time anyway. So you’d end up handing the answer sheet in at the end of the day, maybe lucky that the whole thing didn’t happen on another section but sometimes it did and maybe you decided that it wasn’t even worth trying to skip a question so you filled in any old oval just to keep your place on the answer sheet. And then when your results came back you scored in the low 50th percentile in something lame like reading comprehension and had to take it home to show your parents whose eyebrows furrowed and you had to live with it. Those oval answer sheets were hell and nobody seemed to care that you did your best and even knew most of the answers because the tests were scored by some dinosaur of a computer and spit back out like it didn’t matter that a kid was going to die a thousand deaths because of some stupid oval answer sheet.

Which makes me wonder just how many other things I’m exactly in the same boat in. Here I am, thinking I’m doing okay (or at least not screwing things up royally) and there’s a good chance that I’ve filled in the wrong oval somewhere back there and don’t even know it. I’m doing my daily ovals like you’re supposed to, all the while heading for that terrifying realization that I did screw up and that I don’t have time to go back and fix everything, which I can’t anyway since you can’t erase ovals in real life. But I don’t even know for sure that I have screwed up because, as the Bible says, the way seems right all along the way and only at the very end do I find out that I was totally screwed from the beginning. Well, la dee da.

Maybe the secret is to do what seems wrong. Newton’s third law of motion says that “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” That would explain the “seems right/ends in death” thing. So maybe there’s a way that seems wrong that ends in whatever the opposite of death is. “Seems right/ends in death; seems wrong/ends in the other thing.” Newton was a pretty smart guy, so I’m thinking it might be worth a shot. Besides, even if the third law doesn’t work, even if it’s “seems wrong/ is wrong,” at least you would have fun on your way to ending up dead, which would at least be a fair consolation prize.

All I’m saying is that this kind of Biblical catch-22 ambiguity isn’t doing anybody any favors. Even if you wanted to do the right thing, you could never be sure it was the right thing until it was too late, in which case it’d be too late. So my advice is to ignore this proverb. (Unfortunately it’s in the Bible twice, so you’ll have to ignore it two times.) In my opinion, life is already too uncertain. Why make it worse?


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