Having succumbed to an uncharacteristic pang of wistfulness, the Actuary contacted an organization that, for a nominal fee, would research, collect and compile a compact and easily read dossier on former classmates. The Actuary paid with a personal check and three weeks later received a large manila envelope in the mail. Inside the envelope were seventy-six individual dossiers, one for each of his former classmates. The first dossier the Actuary read concerned a former classmate who, a mere five years after graduating from the Academy, had gone missing in the Alps. The classmate, Chubb Peters, had been on vacation with his family and was hiking by himself when he fell into a hidden crevasse. The Actuary remembered Chubb, but only slightly, and what he did remember was not in any way positive. He remembered Chubb as a surly, uncooperative student, someone whom considered rules and regulations as nothing more than a personal affront. The Actuary was not surprised to find out that Chubb had last been seen hiking on a trail deemed off-limits, nor was he surprised to read accounts from Chubb’s family that painted Chubb in a very unflattering light. However, Chubb was not the only one of the Actuary’s former classmates to meet an untimely death. Out of the seventy-six in his class almost a quarter were dead from misadventure or accident, and it had only been twenty years since graduation. The Actuary crunched the numbers and came to the conclusion that the odds of a quarter of his classmates being dead due to non-natural causes at this particular point in time were close to astronomical. He also concluded that the odds of anyone else from his class dying of non-natural causes in the near future were beyond astronomical, the numbers sliding into the realm of the transfinite. Convinced of the veracity of his calculations, the Actuary felt confident that he would not lose his life in a freak accident, and so he began to cross streets without looking, flying on airlines operating beyond the pale of FAA regulations, and taking long, ponderous strolls through questionable sectors of the city. In other words, the Actuary, for the first time in his life, began to indulge in all manner of reckless behavior. A side effect of this new sense of freedom, however, was that the Actuary now became obsessed with the idea that he would be diagnosed with any one of the random terminal diseases people are diagnosed with every second of every day of every year, specifically a melanoma, which in fact was exactly what Actuary did die from two weeks short of his forty-ninth birthday. What the Actuary had always assumed was a nothing more than a regular mole on his hand was nothing of the sort, and why he never scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist is a mystery to those who knew and remembered him, except for another Actuary, who had graduated in the same class, and who worked at a competing practice across town. The second actuary, who had also had a moment of weakness and paid for an update on the whereabouts of his former classmates, read the dossier on the first actuary, and after closing it, remarked to his wife that he was not surprised, as the first actuary, even as a schoolboy, had always exhibited poor attention to detail, and it was known, locally, at least, that as far as actuaries went, he was definitely someone you wanted to avoid using. The second actuary then said something to his wife about the first actuary, something about the forest and the trees, and even though the second actuary’s wife was not really listening, it did not prevent her from nodding her head and saying that she couldn’t have said it better herself.
The Forest And The Trees