The tally of our lives

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

A number of years ago, I invented the God Computer — in my head, of course. It dwells in the realm of "what if."

I thought about this divine entity recently when some tourists in the Loop were taking my picture. Well, not my picture per se, but I was in the frame — in front of the fountain they were shooting. I was curious about how many photos over the years I have inadvertently appeared in, all over the world, standing in the background or walking past at the moment the shutter clicks. It would be a hoot to see them all. That's a task for the God Computer, which answers instantly, accurately, irrefutably, the questions that are otherwise impossible to track down. 

Come to think of it, how many photos have I been asked to take of other people over the years? Can I see how they all turned out?

I know tech geeks whose favorite reply to any imagined technological advance is, "AI can already do that." Will artificial intelligence ever be able to answer: How many leaves fell from trees and bushes within the boundaries of Oak Park and River Forest last fall and how much did they collectively weigh? I don't want an educated AI guess. I want the actual number.


How many of the "close calls" in my life, any of which could have killed me, were averted by divine, or angelic, intervention?

How many times did I say "Wow!" and really mean it? How many times have I experienced genuine awe?

What was my lifetime batting average in all the baseball and softball games I ever played, organized and pick-up?

How many sunrises and sunsets have I seen?

Have I ever laid eyes on an extra-terrestrial?

How many human faces do I recognize, even if I don't know their name?

How many dreams have I dreamed? Can I see the ones I don't remember?

How many times have I cried since the age of 5, not counting while watching It's a Wonderful Life?

How many miles have I walked in my life?

Not to mention all those "Whatever happened to …?" questions. 

Years ago, a tour guide in Denali National Park told me a tourist asked, "How much does that mountain weigh?" to which he promptly replied, "With or without the trees, ma'am?" The God Computer could answer both. 

I designed my God Computer to answer only things that have happened or can, theoretically, be known. 

So I can't ask G.C., "How would this country be different if John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King had not been assassinated?" something many of us have wondered about at one time or another. Or "If Moises Alou had caught that foul ball in the 2003 NLCS, would the Cubs have gone to the World Series?" Or "Who are the 10 best former Major League Baseball players not in the Hall of Fame?"

I don't expect my G.C. to know parallel realities that would have unfolded if something happened or didn't happen, or to express opinions. Maybe your G.C. can answer those questions. 

You've probably noticed that most of my questions are quantitative.

What is the won-loss record of all the White Sox games I've attended? Maybe that seems a bit frivolous for the God Computer, but a list of those games, along with the dates they were played and the scores, would connect me to the past. How many games did I see with my father? How many with my son? Quantifying can lead to qualifying. 

And knowing the answer to some of these could change your life, motivating you to do better:

How much money have I donated to charity?

How many books have I read?

What have I done to help make this a better world? What do I need to atone for? 

These are the questions of a searching soul. A G.C. could aid that process.

What about "When will I die?" I don't ask about the future. This is a God Computer, not God. Our lives are, to some extent, a tally — and within the tallies a story of living emerges.

In this "post-truth" era, a G.C. would be a tremendous comfort. Its answers could not be questioned. It could settle debates, dispel myths. Was Barack Obama born in the U.S.? How many Vietnam vets were actually spit on when they returned home? Did Donald Trump and/or his campaign/administration cooperate with Russia to tip the 2016 election in his favor? 

Our desire for certainty is futile but only if we become obsessed with it — when we start to convince ourselves that we have answers and are tempted to impose them on others. It's critical that idle curiosity never turn into idol curiosity.

That's one of the reasons my queries lean toward the personal. 

What significant events took place in the past 150 years that led inexorably to my birth? Who were the people in the Trainor, McEvoy, Mooney and Simpson clans who decided to come to this country from Ireland and why — setting in motion a series of circumstances and coincidences that resulted in my very existence?

Our births were all trillion-to-one shots that could have been eclipsed at any point. What were the actual odds of our being born? Whatever number the God Computer put on that would heighten our appreciation for the miracle of existence, making us more aware of the sacred privilege of having a life.

What good is asking such questions when the God Computer doesn't exist? Some good, I think. At the very least they underscore all that goes into a long, full life.

What questions would you ask G.C.? Our craving for certainty is part of being human. We'll never get definitive answers to these questions, but it's still OK to ask. Coming to terms with uncertainty, after all, is at the core of reality-based living. 

The God Computer is really just an invitation to wonder.


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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 29th, 2017 12:39 PM

@ Bill Dwyer: You know what would be funnier, tape of you and I dancing the bugaloo with significant others.Howls of laughter and crys from my kids, "Mom, Dad get off the floor!"

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: September 28th, 2017 7:23 PM

Damn. That's funny, Brian. Seriously.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 28th, 2017 6:45 PM

There were four members of the Alou family to play pro baseball. Moises, Felipe, Jesus and Boog Powell. Boog Powell changed his name to Powell because he did not want to be known as Boog Alou.

Richard Stephen  

Posted: September 28th, 2017 3:30 PM

Ken: Felipe Alou was not the outfielder for the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS who did not catch the foul ball. That was Moises Alou. Felipe Alou was Moises' father. Please fact check your stories before you publish them. Thank you.

Martin A. Berg from Oak Park  

Posted: September 28th, 2017 2:18 PM

Fun column. Thanks, Ken!

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