The first night I spent in my house was December 31, 1999. David and I had spent over a year pouring concrete, nailing boards and installing windows. On that night, we still needed to hang drywall, build shelves and tile the bathrooms. We had no electricity or running water, but we enclosed what would eventually become Izzie’s room with plastic sheeting, brought in a space heater and some battery-powered work lights. We slept in sleeping bags, never shedding our gloves or ski hats. We danced to Marvin Gaye, uncorked champagne, played cards, ate smoked salmon and wrote our dreams for the future on lined composition paper. We slid those notes between studs and walled them in with boards (presumably they are still there, unless they’ve been eaten by mice).
It might have been the only night we ever spent in our house because of the bug. To fully explain, I need to go back to 1947, when a moth got trapped in the relay of an early computer. The operator who found it taped the moth to the logbook, adding the note, “first case of bug being found.” Now, the term “bug” refers to any sort of glitch that causes unexpected things to occur. The most famous “bug” in technological history came to pass on the first night I spent in my house.
In the 1990’s, it was common practice for computer programmers to abbreviate the four-year date to a two-year date to save memory space. The theory was that this practice would cause date-related processing to operate incorrectly after January 1, 2000. Basically, every computer on the planet at that time could only count to 12/31/99. Techy people had warned of this for years, predicting disruptions to electricity, water services, food delivery, banking systems, transportation and government records. The so-called Y2K Apocalypse would lead to a complete breakdown in society. President Clinton urged us to have extra water and batteries on hand, to avoid elevators, to stay home and stay safe should mass hysteria ensue. Religious cults had spent the second half of the 90’s preparing for these End Times, gleeful in their anticipation of the rapture. Survivalists went off the grid, building solar-paneled shelters and stockpiling weapons and cans of food. Programmers worked overtime to fix the problem (and should be given the credit for doing so); it’s estimated that over $300 billion were spent to upgrade computer systems across the world to fix the Y2K bug.
As a Media Specialist, I myself had spent countless hours working with the Tech Department of my school district to ensure the computer system at my school was safe. While I did not personally expect the world to end, I thought it feasible that disruptions to service might mean long building delays. And just in case the rapture ensued, I would have spent at least one night in my dream house.
Japanese Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki calls us to practice the art of not always so. Not always so is the idea that all we can expect is the unexpected. We fill our lives with plans, never taking into account the inevitable bugs and glitches. The delays, disruptions, obstacles and complications seem like personal affronts and we predictably fall into despair. Life is so, but it is not always so. Sometimes a moth is going to get caught in the works.
And that bug is where the story lies. Consider a boy who wants to become a doctor when he grows up. He studies, excels in school, becomes a doctor, the end. There’s no story, no punch without the trajectory of conflict or challenge. Humans only evolve through struggle; our growth requires glitches. When we drop our preconceived ideas and welcome the plot twists, we write a more interesting story.