I've got a nagging health problem - not even a problem, more a possible symptom - that worries my husband more than me. This morning I'm going to the doctor (about an obvious, mundane medical problem) and he once again reminded me to raise this matter, have it 'checked out'. I sighed. I would love to have it 'checked out'. I would love to find the expert who would check it out for me but, at my age and with a long history of things being 'checked out', I know this is not possible. I can get appointments, go for scans, have the results interpreted by a consultant and then go for a re-interpretation to my GP. I can do all the right things but that doesn't mean that anything will end up 'checked out'. Worried experts will furrow their brows over scan results and say with authority, "Hmm, Mrs Peasant, I see from this you're going to owe us a lot of money", but everything else is tentative. The myth of expertise is a fragile thing. Most of us let go of it in the end, some earlier than others. I used to hold on to it really, really tightly, and spent a lot of money and gave myself a lot of heartache in the process. Most old people (I mean the over 80s, loveliest part of the population) have well given it up. My dad was like that. He wouldn't take a tip on a horse from anybody younger than himself.
I present for your instruction this little story. Surely apocryphal, it's on many web sites, but I never saw it before, so in the best tradition of the anecdote I here present it as my own discovery.
It was October and the Indians on a remote reservation asked their new Chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a Chief in a modern society he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky he couldn't’t tell what the winter was going to be like.
Nevertheless, to be on the safe side he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared. But being a practical leader, after several days he got an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?” “It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,” the meteorologist at the weather service responded.
So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared. A week later he called the National Weather Service again. “Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?” “Yes,” the man at National Weather Service again replied, “it’s going to be a very cold winter.”
The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find. Two weeks later the Chief called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”
“Absolutely,” the man replied. “It’s looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever.” “How can you be so sure?” the Chief asked. The weatherman replied, “The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy.”