Jennifer loved the drive to work. It was never cold in southwest Florida, so she kept the windows down year-round, letting the breeze flow through her hair. It added its own pulsating rhythm to the melodies of her ZZ Top album, and was the same breeze that gently swayed the palm trees that lined the parkway. After seven years in Florida, she still marveled at the palm trees.
She stopped at a 7-11 to fill up the tank of her blue BMW and grab an orange cranberry muffin. She’d just reached the car before realizing she needed the restroom.
She walked around to the side of the building, noticing how well the stucco had help up over the six years since this 7-11 had been built. As her hand reached for the knob on the restroom door, she heard an unfamiliar sound.
She froze for a second to get a better listen over the sound of traffic. It was a whimpering sound, soft and muted. She took her hand off the doorknob and walked to the rear of the building, where the sound seemed to be coming from.
There, by the dumpster, was a little girl of about six. She was wearing a bright but battered yellow Spongebob tanktop with green shorts. Her hair was beautiful- long and auburn, but a bit matted, as if it hadn’t been brushed. The girl was sitting with her back to the stucco, her arms resting on her knees, and her head buried in her arms.
Jennifer gasped slightly, and covered her hand with her mouth. It was a pitiful sight to behold.
The girl jerked her head up from her arms, and the flash of sadness in her brown eyes didn’t escape Jennifer’s notice. The sadness lasted only a moment, though, as the girl quickly recovered, wiping her eyes with her arm and assuming a more dignified air.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” Jennifer asked, inching closer. She knelt beside the girl.
Then she saw her other eye, purple and bruised. There was makeup covering it, but Jennifer guessed that the girl had done the makeup herself; it was a valiant but haphazard attempt.
Jennifer extended her hand.
“My name is Jennifer. What’s yours?”
“Gloria,” came the reply.
“Gloria. That’s a beautiful name. Where do you live, Gloria? Are your parents here with you?”
Gloria pointed to a mobile home park barely visible behind the row of trees that lined the back of the 7-11 lot.
“Who lives at home with you? Your mom? Dad?”
The girl nodded.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Gloria shook her head.
“Who did this to you, Gloria? Who gave you the black eye?”
“Daddy.” At the sound of the word, Gloria began to sob, as if the very mention of him hurt.
Thirty minutes later, Jennifer found herself in front of the Child Protective Services building.
She called into work, explained the situation, and stayed with Gloria until the CPS worker assured her that she was no longer needed. Gloria was remarkably forthcoming and quite intelligent. She even knew her own address.
A week passed, and Jennifer had not been able to shake thoughts of the brave but terrified little girl. The following Friday, after work, Jennifer stopped by the mobile home park. She drove slowly through the narrow streets, and as she saw all the shirtless men drinking beer in their front yards, and all the old women hanging laundry out to dry, she suddenly felt very conspicuous in her Ray-Bans and her shiny BMW.
Finally, she spotted Gloria’s house: 1173 Palm Drive, Lot 42. It was a grey mobile home with a hastily-built awning serving as shade over the front porch, painted in green and white stripes. Two plastic chairs and a small table sat on the porch, which descended into the yard with concrete blocks that served as steps.
Jennifer put the car in park and leaned back in her seat. She didn’t really know what to do, or even why she was here. She was drawing stares from the neighbors, but she didn’t care.
“Who are you?” The voice came from behind Jennifer, startling her. She turned to see a young woman in her mid-twenties holding a laundry basket.
“Well… what do you want?”
Jennifer recovered herself.
“I’m sorry… forgive me. My name’s Jennifer, and I just wanted to check on Gloria.” There was a slight trembling in her voice.
“How do you know Gloria?”
“I… well, I met her last week, at the 7-11. We became friends of sorts. I just wanted to make sure she was okay.”
The woman eyed her suspiciously.
“Gloria’s gone. Cops been rollin’ in and outta here for a week after she disappeared. Her daddy’s locked up. Damn shame.”
“What do you mean it’s a shame? Excuse me, but I think it’s in Gloria’s best interests that her daddy’s ‘locked up,’ as you put it. That little girl didn’t deserve what he did to her.”
A flash of recognition came across the woman’s face.
“You did this, didn’t you? You called the cops on her daddy.”
Jennifer didn’t like the accusatory tone.
“You’re damned right I called the cops. Or, rather, I called CPS. No child should have to go through that. You think it’s okay to beat on a little girl?”
The woman, still holding her laundry basket, rolled her eyes.
“You don’t know nothin’ about nothin’, do you? Gloria’s mama was leavin’ that man. The day Gloria disappeared, she was paying the first month’s rent and deposit on a new place across town. Got herself a job at a dentist’s office. She siphoned money off that man for three years to pay for that place. Twice, he caught her. Beat the hell out of her for it. She kept on, though, said her lil’ girl deserved better. You’ve never seen a mother who loved her daughter like this one. Gloria’s all she had, and Gloria knew it, too. Couldn’t separate those two.”
“You said ‘had.’ “
“You said that Gloria’s all she had. “
“Yeah. Had. She don’t have her now. Never will, I bet. The whole family’s illegal, ‘cept Gloria. She was born her. They got her in foster care now, but the rest of ‘em’s bein’ shipped back to Cuba. “
Jennifer realized she was biting her lower lip.
“I doubt that girl ever sees her mama again.”
In a recent piece for the New Yorker, Paul Bloom takes empathy to task. He begins by noting that empathy not only occupies an expansive space in our capacity to be human, but that empathy is perhaps the most human quality we possess. To illustrate the point, Bloom quotes Adam Smith in his 1759 “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”:
For Smith, what made us moral beings was the imaginative capacity to “place ourselves in his situation … and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them.”
Bloom goes on to point out the abundance of research that has arisen from the desire to cultivate more empathy in our society. After all, it is empathy that motivates us to call the Red Cross when a hurricane or an earthquake strikes. It is empathy that enables us to craft the necessary legislation to ensure that the poor have food to eat, and that the sick have access to proper healthcare. If we can cultivate empathy, the world will inevitably be a better place… right?
There’s a catch, though. Like all things, empathy has its limits. As Bloom states, “empathy has some unfortunate features—it is parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate. We’re often at our best when we’re smart enough not to rely on it.”
But how could empathy possibly be a bad thing? It’s not- not really. Hailing it as the cure for civilization’s ills, however, is a bit reductionist.
Take Sandy Hook. In the wake of that unimaginable tragedy, we came together as a nation. We wanted to help, and help we did. Too much so, in fact:
Newtown was…inundated with so much charity that it became a burden. More than eight hundred volunteers were recruited to deal with the gifts that were sent to the city—all of which kept arriving despite earnest pleas from Newtown officials that charity be directed elsewhere. A vast warehouse was crammed with plush toys the townspeople had no use for; millions of dollars rolled in to this relatively affluent community.
Of course, it’s not the worst thing in the world that the victims of that senseless tragedy received too much help, is it? Except that we forget that ‘help’ is not limitless. The assistance that went to Sandy Hook was needed elsewhere, and desperately so. Since it was Sandy Hook that was receiving the attention, though, it was the easiest way for us to help. It was brought to the forefront of our consiousness, so it was simply a matter of following instructions and saying, “There. I’ve done my part.”
We don’t pay attention to the tragedies that occur in the everyday, all around us; it doesn’t fit our sense of what the narrative should be- and the narrative plays to our sense of empathy.
The result is a vicious cycle of needless suffering; those that can be helped, and get the spotlight, are helped. Those suffering silently in the shadows are doomed to continue suffering.
As the economist Thomas Schelling, writing forty-five years ago, mordantly observed, “Let a six-year-old girl with brown hair need thousands of dollars for an operation that will prolong her life until Christmas, and the post office will be swamped with nickels and dimes to save her. But let it be reported that without a sales tax the hospital facilities of Massachusetts will deteriorate and cause a barely perceptible increase in preventable deaths—not many will drop a tear or reach for their checkbooks.”
The extent to which we can change the course of things, Bloom argues, lies in our ability to empathize not only with past suffering, but with future suffering as well.
Consider global warming—what Rifkin calls the “escalating entropy bill that now threatens catastrophic climate change and our very existence.” As it happens, the limits of empathy are especially stark here. Opponents of restrictions on CO2 emissions are flush with identifiable victims—all those who will be harmed by increased costs, by business closures. The millions of people who at some unspecified future date will suffer the consequences of our current inaction are, by contrast, pale statistical abstractions.
Empathy in and of itself is indeed a very human, and absolutely crucial, element. It has its limits, though. In order to enact the most good in this world, we have to understand where its limits lie. Once we reach those limits, we must let reason and logic take over.
In the story above, Jennifer does what most would do: when you see a child in an abusive situation, of course your heart will go out to that child, of course you will want to help. But if you only listen to the deafening sound of the empathy echoing in your heart, you may end up doing more harm than good.
The dance of the world is a dance between logic and empathy, between reason and compassion. To use one without the other is inhuman. To intertwine the two in a worldview that enacts the most possible good in this world is true wisdom.
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/17H0PmJ
I was making an omelette when I heard the knock on the door. It was frantic, intense, like someone was trying to beat the door down.
I stood still, spatula in hand, for a few seconds.
The banging stopped.
“Mark! Mark! Mark, please!”
I exhaled and set the spatula down. It was only Tina.
I ran to the front door and opened it.
Tina rushed past me and collapsing into a heap on the sofa. She grabbed a throw pillow, straightened herself out, and held hte pillow over her face.
I sat down, cautiously, in the recliner, and watched her heavy breathing, the motion of the pillow heaving up and down.
“Tina, what the hell is wrong?”
The pillow slowly started moving towards Tina’s torso, uncovering her face, and taking with it most of her mascara. Outside, a slow rain started tapping on the window.
Tina’s body was stiff, like a plank of wood lain on the sofa, and she was staring at the textured ceiling. Her head tilted towards me.
“I did something bad, Mark.”
Her eyes flashed. She was starting to scare me, a little.
“Okay,” I managed. “Tell me what you did.”
She held her breath, and after a pause, exhaled. “I cheated.”
“YES!” She erupted, then began sobbing quietly. “I cheated.”
“I see. Does he know?”
“Yes, he knows. Or, at least, I think he knows. If he doesn’t yet, he soon will.” She was staring at the ceiling again.
“Hold on. I’ll be right back,” I said, and I went into the kitchen and made tea.
A few minutes later, I walked into the living room. Tina was finally sitting up, wiping the mascara from her cheeks. She sniffled as she extended her hand to take the tea.
“Thanks,” she said, with a half-hearted smile.
“So do you wanna tell me what happened?”
“I don’t know what happened. It was harmless, at first… just a little daydreaming, y’know? Then it… escalated.”
“It started with dreams. After a while, the dreams didn’t stop when I woke. It was like the dream had overflowed into my waking life. My morning started in a sort of trance.
It was beautiful, Mark. It felt like some sort of nectar was coursing through my veins. I’d take a shower, do the dishes, go for a walk, and everything was intensified, magnified, almost. Like life had finally breathed its secret into me, and I knew without knowing.”
“You’re losing me, Tina.”
She was staring at the window now, watching what were now pellets of rain pelt the glass, each sliding down to the window sill below to make room for the next raindrop soon to be hurled from the sky.
Then the rain stopped, and everything was calm again, but for the rolling thunder miles away.
“It went on, and I couldn’t stop it. I love him, Mark, and I cheated on him. It was infrequent at first. A couple times a month, maybe. Then it was once a week. Soon I was cheating every chance I got, making excuses for myself. I couldn’t help myself. It felt like something I was born to do, meant to do, like it was embedded in me somehow, this capacity.”
We sat in silence for five minutes, ten minutes. I sipped my tea. Tina weeped silently.
Then there was another knock on the door, a slow, steady tapping this time.
Tina let out a faint gasp, then turned to me with fear in her eyes. She was afraid of him.
I walked to the door and opened it, but saw only the swaying trees and wet pavement. I started to close the door, but the sound of Tina’s voice stopped me.
“Mark,” she said simply. I turned to her, still clutching the doorknob in one hand. She was clutching the throw pillow against her chest, her eyes a salty mixture of guilt and dread. She nodded towards the door behind me.
There was an enveloped stuck to the door, a penknife run through it. I unlodged the knife, took the envelope in my hand, and closed the door.
I started to hand Tina the envelope.
“You read it,” she said. “I can’t.”
I nodded and, still standing in the doorway, opened the envelope, unfolded the single page of crisp white paper, and read.
When I finished, I walked to the sofa and knelt beside Tina, who was still clutching the pillow, still breathing heavily. Her eyes wanted answers now, but they also didn’t.
“You’re going to want to read this.”
She snatched the letter from my hands and read:
Yes, I know what you’ve done. I understand why you might be afraid now, why you must be nervous about my reaction. Let’s take a minute to think about this.
You’ve known me nearly your entire life… but only nearly. We didn’t know each other as kids, really, or at least when you were a kid. You lived without me for the longest time, not even knowing of my existence until you started to grow up. I know I was a lot to handle at first, but once we got comfortable with each other, things went pretty smoothly, I think.
It’s funny. When I found out you’d cheated on me, all I could feel was relief. Don’t get me wrong- I want you to need me. I’m the best thing for you, in fact. I know that, and I think you do, too.
But I was all you’d ever known, or at least all you could remember. You needed an escape. You are capable of such wonderful things, Tina, and you can accomplish good things with me.
To accomplish great things, though, you needed to do what you did. You needed to let your mind, your heart, your body wander. I, in and of myself, am the ground beneath your feet, but you’d never looked up to see the sky until you did what you did. You’d never seen the rest of the world, the one that exists precisely because you dreamt it.
Love me, Tina, but don’t worship me. Come to me, stay with me, but dream when you may, and wander when you must. I’ll always be here waiting for you when you get back.
Diane, the Unknown
She sat behind her desk at the back of the store, watching a balding man circle an overstuffed leather sofa for the fifth time. She felt annoyed with him. Just buy the damned thing already.
A salesman approached him. She watched the exchange with an odd mix of interest and detachment. The man adjusted his black wire-framed spectacles, then lifted his hands to his hips in a slightly aggressive manner. A few seconds later, he turned his back to the salesman in what looked like disgust, and rubbed the bald spot on his head, turned around again, and muttered something.
The salesman began making his way towards Diane. She sat up a bit straighter and grabbed the first paper on the top of the pile on her desk. She pretended to be reading it intently.
“Diane, will you talk to this guy? I think I’ve had enough of him.”
“What does he want?”
“He wants to know how long the furniture will last.”
Diane stood up and smoothed her skirt. She was attractive blonde, even at forty years old, so balding, middle-aged men didn’t usually pose much of a problem.
She approached the man with her hand extended. “I’m Diane, the store owner. Can I help you, sir?”
The next twenty minutes were spent explaining the origins of the fine Italian leather, and the impossibility of determining the life of the sofa. Eventually, Diane gave in, and put the number at twenty years.
In the end, the man walked out of the store without the sofa. Maybe tomorrow, he said.
Three hours later, she closed up the store, dimmed the lights, and made an espresso from the machine in the back. She went to the cracked brown leather sofa, and sat. She closed her eyes. Even with them closed, she could see every inch of the store. The beds in the northeastern corner. The bath fixtures that were in their second week of a huge sale. The rugs. The desks.
She was growing tired.
She drove home, deliberately skipping the grocery store, though she knew that they were out of milk and bread.
When she walked through the front door, her four-year-old daughter was on her father’s lap, nodding off. He was reading her “Pippi Longstocking.” It had been one of her favorites as a child.
Diane walked up to her daughter, kissed her on the forehead, and watched as her husband cradled her in his arms, and as he walked up the steps to lay her in bed.
She went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of pinot noir. She took a sip, then turned her gaze to the wine rack. An unopened bottle of merlot stared back at her. She always drank white wine, never red. She poured the glass into the sink and filled it with the red.
Her husband came into the kitchen, kissed her on the cheek, grabbed a beer from the fridge. Diane watched him without a sound, then said, “I’m selling the store.”
Her husband spun around to face her.
“What? Why? When the hell did this happen?” His tone betrayed his annoyance.
“Today. A few hours ago. I just decided.”
“Jesus, Diane, don’t you think this warrants a talk? I mean, maybe you’ll change your mind tomorrow.”
“I won’t change my mind.”
“Look, honey, I support you and all, but this affects more than just you. Christ, think about Hailey. What are we going to do for money? Do you have a plan? Do you want me to go back to work?”
“We’ll work it out.”
“You must have something in mind. You can’t just throw away our only income!”
Diane nodded. “I’m going to paint.”
Her husband lowered his head, leaning with both hands onto the marble-top breakfast bar, and exhaled, hard.
“You’re going to paint.” His words were slow, deliberate, incredulous.
Diane looked out the window as she waited for the backlash. The roses were starting to come in. A blue jay was singing from atop the neighbor’s gutter.
“Diane, you can’t be serious. You haven’t painted in, what, fifteen years? I thought that was a college fantasy. You said it was just a college fantasy.”
“So it was.” She turned to her husband, locking eyes with him. “So it was, Jim, but why the hell shouldn’t I turn fantasy into reality?”
“Because fantasy doesn’t pay the god damned bills!”
“We’ll find a way.”
“Where is this coming from, Diane? Did something happen? Is there something I don’t know about?”
“No. Nothing happened.”
“Then what the hell is this?”
Diane held the last swallow of merlot in her mouth, letting it engulf every corner, then slowly swallowed.
“The world doesn’t know me, Jim.”
“What? What the hell does that mean?”
“Remember when you pushed me for Hailey? You insisted that we needed a child.”
“Yes, of course. You’re not saying that you regret…” Jim lowered his voice to a whisper. “You don’t regret having our daughter… do you?”
“No, Jim, of course not. Quite the opposite, in fact. I adore her.”
“Diane, I’m trying to be patient here, but I’m not following. You’re not making any sense.”
Diane was staring out of the window again. “Our daughter is the most wonderful thing we’ve ever created. She’s perfect, in fact. That’s mostly because of you. You stay home with her, you connect with her, you create her. She is your canvas.”
“You can have that, too, honey. You don’t have to sell the store…”
“Yes, I do. Don’t misunderstand me… this isn’t about Hailey. Well, it is, in part. I want to spend more time with her, but I’m satisfied with my relationship with my daughter. I’m a good mother. That’s not it. I want to create. I realized today that things are only valuable because they make us known. Hailey is so important to you because you know each other. Our marriage works because we know each other. It extends beyond people, though. Businessmen do business because that’s who they are. For those men, spreadsheets and the signing of a deal makes them known; it’s how they convey to the world ‘This is who I am, and here are the fruits of that which I am.’ Football fields speak to those who play on it. Teachers see a classroom full of kids as a medium with which to communicate with the world. People want to be known. The store doesn’t make me known, honey. I want to be known. I want my canvas.”
In an episode of House of Cards, Peter and Christina are in Peter’s childhood bedroom, lying on the bed. Peter is laying on top of Christina. He kisses her neck, slowly, then points out the crack in the ceiling, to which both of their gazes turn. Peter describes how he used to stare at that crack every night before he fell asleep. Then, with a smile, he tells Christina “I know every inch, every curve,” before turning his attention back to her.
The thrill in Christina manifests itself in her eyes. The camera, previously focused on both characters, now pans slightly to the left to capture Christina’s expression. It pans out, slowly, still focusing on her, as Peter becomes blurred in the background.
The crack, of course, is her. Her thrill has nothing to do with the crack, but with the fact that this man knows every inch, every curve of her. The crack is not important. What matters is the connection: that one human being is completely, totally known by another.
That is the heart of the human experience. That is what we crave, what we long for. Every action, every breath is working towards that goal.
Lovers fall in love in the hope of being known. A father raises his child in the hope of being known.
A businessman’s strength, his being, lies in his business acumen. At the close of a deal, his very self can be studied in the cells of a spreadsheet, in the signature on the dotted line.
A designer creates a design, then lets it free into the world, saying, “This is me. This is what I am.”
Teachers pass a piece of themselves onto their students. A great teacher is a master in the art of being known, saying “If you want to know who I am, talk to my students.”
A painter paints, a writer writes, a coal miner mines, all to be known.
Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.
~ Virginia Woolf
Like Christina, we are all simply waiting to be known. It’s not the adoration of the masses we seek. Rather, it’s the closeness of a true friend that we want to emulate in our work, in our relationships, in our lives. Those who succeed in their work or their life succeed in that, and that alone.
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/Zn3jST
Jeannie, Here and Now
When I got home from work, I stepped into the bedroom and noticed that I’d already laid out my clothes for the night.
It was going to be a big night. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks, in fact. How long had it been since I’d enjoyed a night out of the house?
I was happy for Jeannie. No one knew, of course, whether or not her book was going to be a success, but at this stage, it hardly mattered. She had finished the book, had let it fly, and it had landed in the lap of someone who loved it- and, more importantly, who could publish it.
I put on my brown striped tie, then swapped it out for the red one.
I smoothed my hair one last time, checked my teeth for food, ran a lint roller through my peacoat, and was out the door.
Everyone was here, it seemed. It was nice that they all came for the successes, too. At one point, I had wondered if we were only ever going to see each other at funerals. We all talked, occasionally, but it was mostly when so-and-so got divorced, and it’s a crying shame, and I’m worried about them, and what can we do to help them?
The hall was done in a modern style, with high ceilings and exposed rafters. Every corner of the room was white. It felt a bit sterile, but clean.
I caught a glimpse of Jeannie standing on the industrial metal stairs, talking to someone-or-other in a tailored suit. She was standing on the step above him, so that she towered over him, even though he was taller. It was a power move she’d heard about in a seminar somewhere. She was drinking wine. She never drank wine.
Her eye caught mine, and she winked with a subtle, almost imperceptible smile. I went to the bar to get a drink, and soon found myself surrounded by old acquaintances.
We talked about the weather, we talked about the kids. We talked, inevitably, about the old days. About Jeannie’s newfound success.
My thoughts started to wander. I went outside for a cigarette, and lingered, alone, for longer than was probably acceptable.
What would she do now? What was the encore to be? This was what she’d always wanted, but now that she had it, where to go? She’d probably write another book, of course, but when? Would she take time off to soak it all in? Take a trip? Find some Dominican stud on a beach and act like a teenager on spring break for a couple of weeks? Perhaps.
Probably. I smiled as I lit another cigarette. She deserved it.
“I was wondering where you’d gone.”
I turned to see Jeannie standing in the doorway. Her long black dress was a bit tight for my tastes, and she knew it. She still looked amazing, though. She was glowing, but whether from the wine or the adulation, I couldn’t tell.
“Sorry. Just stepped out for a minute.”
“A minute? You’ve been out here for an hour and a half.”
I checked my watch. She was right. How had I been out here that long?
“Well, shall we, then? There’s still quite a few people I haven’t caught up with.”
“You’ll have to do it another time then. Everyone’s gone home. The party’s over.”
I dropped Jeannie off at her apartment and went home. The night I had so been looking forward to somehow felt like a waste. Nothing had really happened, and it hadn’t been as thrilling as I’d thought to see the old crew. Now, I was home, and tomorrow was just another day. I sat down at my desk and pulled up my calendar, trying to find the next thing to look forward to. A business trip to some fancy resort next month. That could be fun. May 28th. 42 days.
I went to the cupboard to find a drink. I’d finished off the scotch, apparently. Nothing to drink but milk and water, and some hot cocoa left over from the kids’ last visit.
I heated some milk and made myself a cup of cocoa, then turned on the fireplace. I sat for a few minutes watching the flames crackle.
The cup was warm between my hands, and I wondered at the way that the warmth spread through the rest of my body, entering from my fingertips, slowly making its way through me. The cocoa was delicious. I hadn’t had cocoa in years, and I’d forgotten the sensation. I held every sip in my mouth, letting the liquid cool and come to rest on my tongue.
I realized then that I was enjoying this moment more than I’d enjoyed any moment at the party.
I spent all of last week with my daughter. I devoted the entire week to her, in fact (well, her and her brother). We spent much of the week catching up on her new favorite show (The Secret Circle, for those wondering). It was a simple and extremely joyful pleasure, lying on the couch watching horrible TV with my daughter strewn across my lap. Occasionally, I pretended not to get what was going on so that she could have the pleasure of explaining it to me.
Inevitably, my mind began to wander. I began to think of how long this would last. She’s eight now, which means that soon, Daddy won’t matter. The days of her wanting to spend all day with me are numbered.
Luckily, I like to practice mindfulness. I like to be in the moment. Because I spend so much time honing that technique (though there’s so much room for improvement), I was able to drag my mind back into the present.
Later, I began to drift off again. This time, I landed in more optimistic settings. I thought of her college days, how much fun she would have. I thought of her calling me to tell me of her experiences and her problems and 4how I would make everything better. It was a wonderful little daydream.
The problem is, whether where my mind wanders is a place of joy or sorrow, that wandering has its costs.
Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.
~ Charles H. Spurgeon
As it turns out, we are only happy when we are focused on the here and now. Letting out mind wander, even to a good place, robs us of happiness.
Matt Killingsworth has been studying this sort of thing. The results are in: letting your mind wander unequivocally makes you less happy.
Happiness, of course, isn’t the only benefit to living in the moment. It also aids attention and overall health.
If you’d like to be more mindful, but don’t know where to start, try washing your bowl. You may also want to track your happiness.
Regret can only live in the past. It cannot survive the fresh air of the present. Likewise, anxiety can only live in the future. It is a poisoned carrot, always dangling in front of us. What we don’t realize is that we’ll never reach it. What this — all this — is truly about is turning our gaze from the dangling carrot to the ground beneath our feet. There, on the very ground we walk on, amazing things are happening. Things are living, growing, thriving- but it’s only happening here, now.
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/Ygt8Qm
When the alarm sounded, I hit the snooze button. At least I thought I did. I woke up thirty minutes later- fifteen minutes late.
I leapt from bed to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee and scrambled to take a shower, cursing my luck. I nicked myself shaving, and realized only after I’d donned a black shirt that all my black socks were dirty.
I changed out of the black shirt, grabbed my keys, and went to the kitchen, only to discover that the coffeemaker had malfunctioned and overflowed. I cleaned up the mess got in the car at 7:38, twenty minutes later than I normally left.
I got stuck at a train crossing. Some asshole cut me off on the interstate. I had a new pile of papers on my desk when I got to work. I explained to my boss that I didn’t have time for these papers today. Besides, wasn’t this type of thing Joe’s job?
Joe’s sick, and the job needs to get done.
My wife called on the way home. She’d forgotten pesto, and needed me to stop at the store.
Another asshole had rammed a guard rail three miles up. I got stuck in traffic, but at least I could relax a bit. I turned on Zeppelin and closed my eyes.
The phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t answer.
She talked my ear off for thirty minutes. I tried to end the conversation, but never got a chance to speak. She was too busy telling me about her plans for Easter, and the baskets she’d bought for the kids, and her doctor’s visit last week.
Before I knew it, I was at the grocery store, and I hadn’t had a moment to relax. Zeppelin would have to wait. I got the pesto and went to the self-checkout lane. Four lanes and sixteen people stood before me. My line, of course, moved more slowly than the others. I scanned the jar, and the machine informed me that assistance was required. A cashier had been alerted.
God damn it.
Finally, I made it home. Making my way to the front door, I stepped in dog shit. I left my shoes on the front porch and opened the door to the din of two kids screaming and the dog’s incessant barking. My wife was in the kitchen, making dinner.
“What the hell is wrong with Katie? She looks like she’s on the verge of tears.”
“The boy she likes ignored her today.”
The dog was still barking.
“In his room throwing a fit. He’s mad because I took the iPad away.”
My wife was moving through the kitchen like a woman possessed, whisking, mixing, frying. She hadn’t even turned to look at me.
My eyes fell on the kitchen window. The sunbeams were coming through in waves, lighting up the dust particles in the air.
I took a deep breath.
Then I turned to my wife.
“Honey, how much time before dinner?”
“An hour, maybe. I’m going as fast as I can, dear.” There was some strain in her voice. From behind, I put my hands on her waist, and reached around to kiss her cheek.
“I’ll be back. I’m going to take the kids to the park.”
I changed into jeans and a t-shirt and loaded the kids in the car. I refused to tell them where we were going, so they were reluctant. It was like dragging kid-sized boulders to the car.
We pulled up to the park three minutes later. When it came into view, I heard Jake squeal.
“The park! The park! Daddy brought us to the park, Sissy!”
I turned in my seat to look at my daughter. She fought a smile for a split second, then went with it.
They both ran to the jungle gym first. I sat on the bench and watched as they climbed, both sticking out their tongues, as they always did when they were concentrating.
There were no other kids around.
I pulled out my phone when it vibrated. A new email. I put the phone back in my pocket without opening it.
“Daddy! Daddy! Come play with us!”
I ran to the playground and climbed up the rope that you’re supposed to climb down. I met my daughter at the top. She faked a startled scream, slid down the slide, and ran to the swings, where my son was waiting. We swung.
And I watched the world melt away with each laugh, each glimmer in their eyes.
Not long ago, I said on this very site that I wanted to use it as a sort of reading journal. It was an intriguing idea- I read so many great things, and wanted to remember more of it. A quick post and a little commentary would help me do that, and at the same time, provide a little value to readers. I had some worthwhile things to say, after all.
Then I started experimenting with fiction, which needed to evolve. I felt that I’d said much of what I wanted to say in essay form, and fiction felt like the next step in my evolution as a writer. Or, rather, I felt a compulsion to write stories.
I started to write combination flash fiction and essay pieces, which, to my knowledge, no one else was doing. It was original. That’s a good schtick, right?
Then I started to consider using Wonderisms as a link blog. It would mean more frequent posts, but would require about the same amount of time and work. Lots of others were doing it, and were driving a decent amount of traffic with the format.
That was what I wanted to do, wasn’t it? Drive traffic?
When I asked myself that question, the answer surprised me. No. That wasn’t the aim. How had I forgotten so quickly?
During the day, I write copy. Depending on the subject, it may be incredibly boring, or somewhat satisfying. The research is sometimes enlightening.
Mostly, though, it’s boring. I’m told precisely what to write, then I write it. A lot of it.
Sssimpli was supposed to be the money-maker. Not a lot, but I’d always expected it to serve two functions: as a resume for other tech news sites that may have a paid staff writer opening at some point, and, failing that, to monetize the site itself somehow. Turns out I love doing the work, but it’s still somewhat restricted work. I have a clear vision, and I stick to it.
Then there’s Wonderisms, which was never supposed to make money. It was supposed to be my playground. It was supposed to be the place where I experiment, where I turn to play with words. If I monetized it, I would be restricted. Will readers like this new format? What if traffic drops? I can’t afford that. Better stick to what got me here.
That, of course, would leave me without a playground.
We all need it: that ability to let things slip away. Nothing so nurtures that ability than a playground. Your playground may not be a park, or a jungle gym. It may be a book, or meeting friends for dinner and drinks, or the garage, or the gym. It doesn’t really matter what it is, so long as there’s that one place that you can go to play hard.
This is my word playground. It will remain free of goals, free of vision, free of restriction. This week, it will be what I want it to be. Next week, it will be something different, because next week, I will want something different.
We all work too hard. Isn’t it time we played hard, too?
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/104I86B
Spark Plugs and Pavement
I needed to take a walk. Outside, snow was falling in in large, swirling flurries, but it wasn’t coating the ground. I stood in the doorway, watching the flakes fall, and rise again, then flutter to the ground, only to disappear.
I stepped onto the front porch, then descended the steps. A lone lark was singing somewhere in the immensity, and I wondered briefly if birds lived lonely lives. They must, but how much more terrible if they did, without the release of the occasional conversation.
A barking dog interrupted my thoughts.
I walked on, stepping onto the pavement of the road, and wondered at how long man had existed without knowing the feel of concrete beneath his feet. Before roads, before cars, it took days to travel any significant distance, if not weeks, months. Were we better or worse off for having put this unusually hard surface between our feet and the earth?
I walked past many houses in the neighborhood, and thought of the lives of the people who lived so close to me, and whom I did not know. I didn’t see a soul. Everyone had confined themselves to the safety of their homes, warming themselves by the fire, I imagined.
I came to a cul-de-sac which I’d never noticed. At the end, on either side, were two nearly identical houses, though one was brick, and one was wood. Behind them, I saw a clearing in the trees. I walked between the houses, through the path formed by each properties’ wooden fences, and into the woods.
The snow was becoming lighter, but still the sun refused to shine. I walked for hours, with no direction. I watched as a squirrel ran across the path a few feet in front of me, stopping for only a moment to acknowledge my intrusion.
I walked for an hour more, noticing how, with each step, my head became clearer, my burden lighter. I felt something beneath my foot, and stooped to find an old spark plug. Picking it up, I rolled it between my fingers, and thought of the long way that we had come.
Everything we had — our televisions, our iron gates, our shoes, our phones — had come from the earth. At one point, that’s all that had existed: rock, soil, grass, water. Yet from these things, we had built a tool: a simple arrowhead, then a spear. Gradually, we’d made incremental progress, adding a layer of complexity here and there, until, many eons later, we had rubber tires and microchips. Everything, even those microchips, could trace their lineage to the ground upon which I walked. Man’s ingenuity was a remarkable thing. I put the spark plug in my pocket, and walked on.
I came to a clearing, and found three paths. I wondered which one to take.
It didn’t matter, I decided. Eventually, I would find my way. The wind was biting, and stung my cheek. I smiled, and walked on.
If you’ve watched ESPN recently, you’ll have witnessed the Kid President. He’s a cute kid who dresses up in a suit, acts presidential, and dishes out diatribes on any number of subjects (most recently, he tackled March Madness brackets).
In one skit, he recites Robert Frost’s The Road Less Traveled. Then he informs us that he, too, took the road less traveled- and it was filled with thorns and glass. “Not cool, Robert Frost. Not cool,” he says.
We all spend most of our lives searching for answers. We want to find meaning in our lives, we want to be fulfilled. The drive for that meaning leads us to invent questions to which there are no answers.
We divide life up into good and bad decisions. We wonder if the person we’re with is the right person for us, if we’ve chosen the proper career path. It’s understandable. If there is no right or wrong way, no proper path, then how are we to know if we’re headed in the right direction?
Truth is, there is no right direction. There’s no proper way, no correct choices, no fateful trail. There is only the choices you make in this world full of squirrels, spark plugs, and pavement.
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/XtnvOl
“What’s it been now, Brenda? Six months?”
Brenda slowly chewed her Caesar salad, brushing her long red hair out of her face with every few bites. She loved these lunches with Carol. It was such a quiet place, a hidden oasis in a busy metropolis. Rarely were there more than three or four couples here, and they had the best French onion soup.
“Ooh. It’s serious, then?”
Brenda smiled. “Yeah. I think it is.”
She dipped her bread into the soup and asked the waiter for another glass of water. Her eyes fell on another couple in the far corner of the bistro. He was seventy, she guessed, and his companion was perhaps ten years younger. They were barely eating, staring into each other’s eyes, and seemed oblivious to the world around them.
Brenda thought of Ryan.
It was getting serious. Just that morning, while she was in the shower, he had sung to her: a horrible rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. He was a horrible singer, and besides, she could barely make out a word as he tried to punch out the chorus while brushing his teeth.
This is what it’s all been leading up to, she had thought. All the heartbreak, all the failed relationships, all the embarrassment of dating- it had all been for him.
Brenda looked up from her soup.
“You were off in la-la land. I was asking whether we have enough food for the banquet tonight.”
“Oh. We do. I double-checked.”
That evening, Brenda lingered in front of the bathroom mirror longer than usual as she donned an elegant blue dress and straightened her hair. It all felt like a dream.
She was curling her lashes when her phone began to vibrate. She grinned as she answered it.
“Hi, sweetheart. I’m running a bit late. I was wondering if we could meet at Dante’s for a cup of coffee before your banquet.”
She met him an hour later at the cafe where they’d met nine months ago. Her order had been wrong- she’d asked for no whip cream on her latte. She had thought about returning it once she realized the mistake, then thought better of it when she saw the line. They were busy enough. When she turned to go back to her table, she had bumped into Ryan, literally, spilling just a dab of coffee on his shirt. Two minutes later, he returned to her table with a creamless latte.
He was sitting at that same table now, looking quite handsome in his three-piece suit. He didn’t dress up often. She paused a moment at the counter, admiring him from a distance, before sitting down.
He shifted in his seat.
“Brenda, we need to talk.”
The banquet had been a success, by most accounts, though now it hardly seemed to matter. Brenda walked into her apartment that night and went straight to the wine rack. She didn’t look to see which bottle she was reaching for. She poured an extra tall glass, slumped onto her couch, and cried like she hadn’t in years.
Ryan had turned out to be just another asshole, after all.
On the other side of town, Ryan was sitting in a bar, in a booth beside the pool table, where two of his best friends shot a game. He sipped his beer slowly.
“You’re up, man. Greg’s got the table.”
“I think I’ll sit this one out.”
“You still bummed? I don’t get it, man. Why the hell did you break it off with her if you still love her?”
“I ran into her old boss last night, from the job she had before this one. She loved that job. Loved her boss, too. The only reason she quit was the company didn’t let her travel. She got a bit of wanderlust and took the job she has now so she could travel more.” Ryan stared into the bottom of his glass.
“What’s that got to do with you?”
Ryan looked up from his glass.
“The company’s done pretty well since Brenda left. They’ve always wanted her back, but they didn’t have the leverage to pull her in. Apparently, they’re opening a Paris office next year, and they want Brenda to run it. She’s always loved Paris. When she was a girl, her whole room was done up in Eiffel Tower stuff. There’s no way she’ll turn that down… unless she’s with me.”
“Because you can’t go with her.”
“No. I can’t. My kids are here. I couldn’t take them away from their mother, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. Besides, my mom’s not doing too hot. She’s going to have to move in with me soon. She needs someone to take care of her. I didn’t have a choice. Brenda deserves this. I can’t be the reason she’s unhappy.”
In the season finale of Downton Abbey (SPOILER ALERT!), Carson refuses to go along with the rest of the staff to a fair that’s coming to town. To the other servants, Carson gives the impression that the fair is beneath him. In a private conversation, though, he reveals the true reason: he is the boss, and the rest of the crew won’t enjoy themselves if they feel the ever-present gaze of their superior behind them.
As far as the staff knows, Carson is just an old fuddy-duddy who hates fun. His true motivations, though, reveal a far more compassionate nature.
I’ve written before about the power of context. When we know a person’s story - when we know the context - we can empathize. Stories provide the opportunity for connection. We tend to become close to those with whom we share an experience, and a story allows us to share that experience via the written word. Without that context, without that story, we tend to judge. That judgement comes from a lack of understanding. When we know only are our own perspective, we can only sympathize with ourselves, since there is no connection to anyone else in the ‘story.’
We can, however, be immersed in a story and still find ourselves with a lack of understanding. Indeed, sometimes it is our very closeness to a story that strips us of that understanding. In the story above, we know nothing of Ryan’s motivations when we find Brenda in tears on her couch. All we know is that he broke her heart right before one of the biggest nights of her career.
When we gain an understanding of his motivations, though, we see him differently. He was not out to hurt her; in fact, he sacrificed his own happiness for hers.
I remember a zen technique which I started practicing shortly after reading about it: the idea was to imagine everyone around you as ‘enlightened’ and having a lesson to teach. So, if someone cuts you off in traffic, they may be trying to teach you a lesson in managing your anger. If you spend fifteen minutes in the checkout line at the grocery store, the people in front of you and the painfully slow cashier are teaching you a lesson in patience.
This slight change in perspective can change your entire outlook, and the change is indeed just that: slight. It is only a repositioning of the psyche. But from that shift comes a tremendous increase in patience, understanding, gratitude, empathy.
The technique really boils down to the same thing as the story above: an understanding of a person’s motivation. Why do they behave in such a way? Why did this good person do this thing that hurt us, annoyed us, bewildered us?
We often don’t know the underlying motivation in scenarios that play out in our day-to-day lives, and it is for that very reason that we so often blame others for fortunes that befall us. If we endeavor to better understand the motivations, though, we may find not only an increase in empathy, but a lessening of our own suffering. Without knowing Ryan’s motivations, Brenda concludes - as most of us would - that Ryan is just an asshole who toyed with her emotions. How would she feel if she knew the true reason for the break-up?
It’s not often that we are given an opportunity to get to the heart of a person’s actions. We are social animals, true- but our social offerings are rarely so transparent as to be meaningful. Mostly, our social selves offer trivialities: shallow windows into what’s going on in our jobs, with our family, with our friends. Rarely do we offer glimpses into our motivations.
So it will be with others. If you wish to understand someone’s motivations, it will take an effort on your part. The door into another’s soul is often hidden. What we fail to realize, however, is that the keys to that door are often held out for us. We need only reach a bit to take the key that unlocks the door to a better understanding of our fellow man.
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/16bKhB4
In the Shadows
When we pulled into the parking lot, I was disappointed to see that there were three other cars there. I’m not sure why I wanted it to be empty. This kind of experience seemed to want for aloneness.
I pulled into the spot slowly, if only to delay the inevitable by a few seconds. Neither of us said a word.
I parked beside a gray Toyota Camry with a “Coexist” bumper sticker in the back window.
I shifted into park, let my foot off the brake pedal, and breathed deeply.
I turned to Megan.
“Are you sure you want me to stay here?”
“I’m sure. I want to do this alone.” There was a single tear streaming down her pale cheek.
“Okay. I’ll be here. If you need me…”
“Thanks.” She, too, took a deep breath, opened the car door, and got out. She slammed the door shut, and, without looking back, walked toward the entrance. There was a certain determination in her step, but I noticed that she was rolling her hand into a fist, then relaxing it again, over and over.
She struggled a bit to open the heavy, black-framed doors. Then she disappeared behind them.
I looked around the parking lot. There was the Camry next to us, probably twenty years old, a new Ford Focus, and a purple Nissan Pathfinder with ‘baby on board’ signs hanging in the window.
The pavement looked freshly lain and was a stark black, but, oddly, the white parking lines were faded, and so, too, were the yellow parking blocks.
My eyes moved to the building: old, unassuming brick divided perfectly in half by the black doors. There was a sign above them which simply read “Faberman Clinic” in sterile lettering. In fact, everything looked sterile: the building, the pavement. Perhaps it was only the greyness of the day: the skies were blanketed by thin, wispy clouds, and I hadn’t seen the sun all morning. It was cold, too. Thirty degrees, maybe.
Still, I couldn’t shake the sterility of it all. Cold, messy, chaotic, even- but completely free of color.
I turned the radio on, but after a few minutes, I realized I wasn’t listening to it, so I turned it off again, noticing the completeness of the silence. My thoughts inevitably turned to Megan.
We were doing the right thing. We had to be. Decisions like this couldn’t be regretted. This was the kind of thing that could leave a scar for the rest of your life. You have to be strong, to not let it sway you. If the regret ever took over, it would infect everything. I wouldn’t let that happen. Not to me. Certainly not to Megan.
An eternity later, the doors swung open. Megan stepped outside and tightened her scarf, a gift from her mother on her twenty-first birthday last year.
She lit a cigarette, which surprised me. She didn’t smoke. Her dark hair hung loosely over her the right side of her face, and I could only see her left eye, which gazed into the distance. She stood tall, but her neck hung low. I got out of the car and walked to her. She didn’t look at me until I took her by the hand and walked her back to the car in silence.
I started the engine, but didn’t move.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m okay.”
“Okay.” I had prepared some comforting words, which didn’t come.
“Are you hungry? We could get some lunch.”
“We could go see a movie. The new Meryl Streep is playing.”
“What about a walk? We could just go to the park and walk around the lake.”
“I don’t want to do anything. Just take me home.”
“Megan, I can’t imagine how hard this is, but you can’t just do nothing. Help me take your mind off of it.”
“I don’t want you to take my mind off of it. I want to think about it. I want to dwell on it for awhile.”
“What good will that do? It’s just going to make you miserable. I won’t let you lose yourself to this.”
“I will not run away from it.” She turned to look at me for the first time since we left the apartment.
“Adam, I just aborted a baby. Our baby. I have to let that sink in.”
“Why? Why do you have to let it sink in? You’re just going to get depressed. Why wouldn’t you want to overcome it? To focus on the positive things?”
“Because focusing on the positive things won’t make it go away. It will still be there. This thing that I’ve done is already a part of me. It’s already left its scar. I know what you’re thinking, Adam, and I won’t let this define me. It hurts… it hurts so god damn much… but I won’t let this define me. I have to understand it, because it’s a part of me now. If I run away from it, it will catch up to me, and when it does, it will wrap itself around me and suffocate me. If I let it stay, I can come to terms with it. I can let it walk by my side without ever letting it get in front of me.”
In a recent piece for BigThink, author Derek Beres sheds some light on the concept of loneliness.
He begins by giving loneliness some context: it is one of the core truths of human existence; so much so, in fact, that it is the primary “evil” which most religions attempt to combat with visions of community, togetherness, even an afterlife.
There is a fundamental problem with that approach, however:
Loss and death are integral parts of life; you can mask and decorate them, but you cannot make them disappear.
Because loneliness is so central to the human experience, we can never make it disappear. By building these alternate realities, as Derek says, we only mask the issue, adding layer upon layer of comfortable fiction, until the loneliness is hidden from view by a swirling vortex of fantasy.
Beres goes onto recollect the affirmations offered by friends after his divorce. He was in pain, he was lonely, and those around him attempted to apply their own band-aid to his pain. Of course, they did little to comfort him.
Some friends, though, didn’t attempt to “sugarcoat” the problem. Instead, they offered some sage advice: don’t run from loneliness- run into it.
They turned him onto Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, who had this to say:
Understanding that loss and loneliness are the underlying banes that humans suffer from reminds us to be compassionate in all of our dealings.
Here, I think, is the key concept: understanding. This is not knowledge, nor insight, but wisdom itself. To understand those things which are comfortable, or pleasurable, is admirable. To understand those things which we run from is beautiful.
Contentment means not escaping from your issues, rather acknowledging them as part of a process that, like all else, will one day be gone.
This is such an illuminating statement: to acknowledge the transience of all things is to appreciate them more fully. Your happiness, your sorrow, your job, your mother, your pain, your lover, your self: it is all a speck of dust, waiting merely for the next wind to carry it away.
As Chödrön writes, ‘Loneliness is not a problem. Loneliness is nothing to be solved.’ While she already brought up cultivating less desire, this step simply means recognizing when you are engaged in an activity that is masking your loneliness, and to stop engaging in it.
I’m conflating loneliness with pain here (but, to my mind, a Venn Diagram of the two would overlap to an alarming degree): when I think of the things in my life that have caused pain (or loneliness), I am struck by the fact that there was also so much joy mixed in. My professional triumphs came with a degree of pain: in my striving, I’ve failed and succeeded. Without the one, the other would not exist. Those times that I have loved, the same rings true. Love brings pain and joy, sometimes in equal measure. My daughter is perhaps the most perfect example: I have never known a more perfect love, and yet to see her suffer is the greatest pain man has ever known.
Pain, then, and loneliness are inseparable from joy. Run from one, and you run from the other. (Let us take care not to mistake pleasure for joy.) The only way to live authentically is to run towards loneliness, to embrace it, to accept it for what it is: the shadow in which our reality hides.
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/XJj160
Each morning, I step onto the patio, and before the world opens its eyes, I listen to it sleep. I know instantly what type of sleep it is by the strength of the wind. It is the sound of the world breathing.
I step onto the ledge and I breathe with it. Some mornings, it is calm and gentle: a peaceful slumber. Others, it is swift and ferocious: a turbulent sleep.
The birds are awake, but they don’t notice me- or, if they do, they pay no mind. What a wonderful feeling, to roam freely amidst the dreams of an entire world, undetected, unseen.
Someone else is here. I hear his forceful footsteps before I see him. He is hunched, but just a bit, and his Wolverine boots land with a thud on each step.
He comes into view slowly. His mouth is curled into a scowl, which seems to lengthen his already long face. He is clean-shaven, and his brown hair is trimmed neatly except where it covers the top half of his ears. He’s wearing simple blue jeans and a blue argyle sweater. He looks uncomfortable in the sweater.
He still doesn’t see me. By the time I reach the end of the driveway, he’s past me.
“What is your most prized possession?” I call.
He jerks his head around, looking for the voice. Finally, his eyes land on me.
“What is your most prized possession?” I repeat.
He looks behind him, then turns back towards me. He doesn’t speak for four, maybe five seconds.
“What the fuck kinda question is that?”
“Mine is an old baseball. Got a Cleveland Indians logo on it. I took it to every Indians game my grandfather took me to. One day, Bob Feller was there signing autographs. He was my favorite baseball player, even though he pitched forty years before I was born. Wanted to be just like him when I was a kid. I took my ball up to him after the game- had to stand in line for almost an hour. He signed it, and afterwards me and Grandpa went to our favorite hot dog joint. I showed everyone that ball, holding it like it was the Hortensia Diamond. Best day of my life, I think.”
The man stood silent for a few more seconds before he started scratching his head.
“Do I know you? Why the hell are we having this conversation?”
“When I get a bit pissed off, I think about that baseball. It calms me down. Works every time, in fact.”
The man nodded a small smile of recognition, then extended his hand.
“Name’s Ted,” he said.
I shook his hand. “Tom.”
“Car won’t start,” he said. “I’m late for work already, and my wife was giving me hell about it. Said I should just take a day off and stay home like it’s a sign from God. I can’t afford to, ya know? In fact, I was hoping to get some overtime this week.”
“I was just about to make a cup of coffee. I make it good and strong. You seem like you could use a cup.”
He looked behind me and down the street.
“Yeah. Yeah, I sure as hell could use a good cup of coffee,” he said.
Each morning, I step onto the patio, and before the world opens its eyes, I listen to it sleep. I know instantly what type of sleep it is, by the strength of the wind. It is the sound of the world breathing.
I step onto the ledge and I breathe with it. Some mornings, it is calm and gentle: a peaceful slumber. Others, it is swift and ferocious: a turbulent sleep.
The birds are awake, but they don’t notice me- or, if they do, they pay no mind. What a wonderful feeling, to roam freely amidst the dreams of an entire world, undetected, unseen.
I take a deep breath before returning inside. I start a pot of coffee, then pull out my phone while it’s brewing. Three mentions. Four retweets. Two likes.
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/XB9EHA
A (Second) Open Letter to My Daughter
I was eleven when we met at Lisa Sheena’s birthday party. I was standing in the hallway, looking for the bathroom. I’d had four cups of punch, and it wouldn’t wait. Lisa’s mother had told me that the bathroom was the third door on the left, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t sure which door it was, and didn’t feel quite right about barging through every door, so I stood there, paralyzed, desperately hoping that someone or something would come along and show me the way before I made a fool of myself. I don’t know how long I stood there. One minute, five.
I remember coming around to the inevitability that I it was going to happen- I was going to piss my pants, out of sheer stupidity. I knew how ridiculous it was, and yet I could not move.
Then she came around the corner. Her amber hair was braided, but one lock strayed, falling over her face and curling just under her chin. She paused for just a moment, then smiled slightly. She walked past me, to the fourth door on the left, and opened it. I walked past her, lowering my gaze, and slammed the door in her face.
When I finished, and opened the door, she was still there. I tried to convey my gratitude without words, and as she entered the bathroom, I watched her close the door. I started back to the party, full of humiliation and relief, and examined each door as I went. The second door was a linen closet. I hadn’t factored that into the equation.
Hi, Peanut. It’s Daddy… again. I know I did this open letter thing already, but I’d like to impart some more wisdom, if you don’t mind. I’ve been collecting it, and I’ve got to get rid of some to make room for more. You don’t mind, do you?
Did you read that little story up there? It makes a very important point, and one that I want you to remember. See, you’re at the age (you’re eight as I’m writing this) where the world is starting to come into focus. It’s like you’ve had water-filled goggles on until this point, and we just took them off. You’ve seen everything, but it’s all been distorted, blurry.
Now you’re starting to question things. And you’re getting annoying answers when you ask questions; answers like “We’ll talk about it when you’re older” or “Nevermind- that’s grownup stuff.” It’s frustrating, I know. You’re exposed to so much more stuff than I was when I was a kid. I couldn’t even have conceived of YouTube at your age. As a result, you’re finding out more about the world, and some of it doesn’t make sense. Some of it seems silly, and some of it seems plain wrong. Of course you have questions.
Here’s the thing, though: you come to us grownups for answers, but the truth is we’re like that little boy in the story up there: we have no idea what we’re doing.
Sometimes we just don’t know why things are the way they are or why people behave a certain way. In fact, lately people have been taking a certain pride in their ignorance, your dad included. We’d be making Socrates proud (Socrates was a loud, ugly genius who changed the world; we’ll talk about him later), but that doesn’t really help you. It just doesn’t suit us to tell you that we don’t know what we’re doing.
We can’t admit that we’re letting you grow up in a world in which virtually everything is unknown. We want to give the impression that we know what the hell we’re doing. We don’t.
See, people much smarter than Daddy have been studying other people for years, and it feels like it’s all coming to a head. So much of the research indicates that we’re not nearly as intelligent a species as we like to think we are.
There’s the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which seems to afflict the majority of the population — or so you will come to believe if you turn on a cable news channel for a bit — which tells us that a person who lacks intelligence will never know that they lack intelligence because… well, they lack the intelligence to understand that about themselves.
That’s just one cognitive bias, though- there are many others, like the ever-popular cognitive dissonance and my personal favorite, belief bias. Belief bias basically means that we only give an argument as much strength as our original belief allows us to. That means that if you argue with me, I’ll only believe your side if I already believe your side. Yeah, I know, it’s pretty ridiculous- but keep that in mind when you tell me what a safe driver you are after you ask for the car keys. I’m already not hearing you.
Then there are the recent studies that show that when we hear evidence that directly contradicts our beliefs, we not only do not change our beliefs, we actually believe those flawed beliefs more. We are a ludicrous people, we humans.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I want you to remember it anytime you come across someone who seems to know what they’re doing. These people are all around. Start looking and you’ll see them. They’re the people who make it all look so easy. They’re on top of the world and nothing can keep them down.
Or maybe they just excel at a particular thing. Maybe you’ll be practicing the violin one day, and the person next to you is playing like an angel while your fingers are cramping up and you feel like you’re making an ass of yourself.
Maybe you have kids of your own one day, and you go your mom’s house and she makes her grandkids a pineapple upside down cake, and you’ve never been able to make it taste the way she does and why the hell is everything so hard?
Whenever this happens, Peanut, think of the little boy in the story, standing in the hall, paralyzed, about to burst and make a fool of himself just so that he doesn’t have to admit that he doesn’t know where the bathroom is.
None of us know what we’re doing. That’s the secret. We’re all making it up as we go. So don’t assume anyone knows anything- lend a hand when you think someone needs it. Ask for help when you need it.
I want you to be just like the little girl in the story. Don’t judge, just help. Grab that little boy by the hand, walk him down the hall, and open the door for him- not because he asked you, but because you know (now) that no one in this world knows what the hell they’re doing.
When you get right down to it, we’re all just little boys trying to find somewhere to pee.
from Rob Boone http://bit.ly/WqLRtF