Saturday, June 21, 2014
We're Unique ... and We're Not, 2
The other day I wrote about how part of growing older (from childhood on) is learning that in fundamental and very profound ways we are not as unique as we sometimes think we are. We are not immune from accident or illness (our injuries do not heal with Wolverine-ian alacrity--and some, physical and psychological, will not heal at all); there are limits to our physical prowess (limits that become ever more restrictive as we age); and, eventually, even our minds begin to fail us--memories evanesce, quick recall becomes just another instance of evanescence (I used to be good at Jeopardy- and Trivial Pursuit-like games; now I suck). And on and on.
So ... in basic ways we are all very much like one another--and very much like our ancestors (including the very remote ones, the ones who slept in trees, who lived in caves).
But I think it's useful to go beyond this--to consider this: In what ways am I unique? Different? Unlike most other people?
It's a hard question, really. As I sit here, thinking about my "uniqueness," I realize that everything I can come up with is not unique at all--myriads of others share the traits I'm thinking of. I have a sense of humor; I read a lot of books; I love to write; I'm disciplined about getting my work done before I do anything else; I like to bake--and cook our meals; I am a creature of habit (you can find me pretty much in the same places at the same times every day); I love the movies--and great TV programs; I have a (facile) felicity with rhyme & rhythm (odd: I can't dance a lick); I love my wife, my son and his family, my mom and brothers and their families; I wish I could quit snacking near bedtime; I should sometimes think a moment (or ten) before I speak; I love long car trips; I can't imagine what a vacation is (Joyce and I work every day of the year, even when we're traveling); I'm moderate to liberal on social and political issues; I've memorized a bunch (130+) poems. Etc.
And then there are my looks (but let's not go there, okay?).
But do those things make me unique? Even in combination? Aren't there lots of other folks--scads, maybe?--who could make a very similar list about themselves?
By the way, I am not trolling for praise/condemnation here--do not want people to wax lyrical about what a unique human being I am/am not. (That would be beyond pathetic.) I'm just trying to think about what we mean when we talk about human uniqueness. When we leave this life, many people around us will feel sorrow--loss. But even that is evanescent, isn't it? When our great-great-great-great-grandmother died, the people around her were probably sad--but now? We don't even know her name, do we? Or anything else about her? Do we have anything that belonged to her? Do we know what she looked like? What made her happy? What made her cry? Sure some of her genes are active in us--but which ones? And in what ways? And, of course, we had thirty-two great-great-great-great-grandmothers ... so which one are we even talking about?
link to a clip of him on The Daily Show.)
And, of course, all our minds are different from one another (just as they have many similarities of structure and behavior--living inside our heads: both Godzilla and Aristotle, vying for dominance). I've been fortunate in my life to know so many folks with astonishing minds--from members of my own family (my two brothers and I are as different and similar as we can be: Richard knows more about classical music than anyone else I've ever known--ditto for Dave re: US and British history); to special teachers (from elementary school through grad school); to amazing colleagues at Aurora Middle (Harmon) School, Lake Forest College, Western Reserve Academy, Hiram College; to amazing students at all those places. (It was a very rare day when I walked into class and did not hear something novel and/or surprising--something I'd never thought of--and wished I had.)
So--okay--our minds: both the kitchen cabinet and the mixing bowl for our experiences, our memories, our ideas, fears, loves, tastes, hates, talents, incapacities, frustrations, hopes, worries, insecurities, dreams. Seat of our ecstasy and our depression. The organ that guides and misdirects, that perceives and misperceives, that understands and fails to do so, that truly makes us unlike anyone else, alive or dead or yet unborn.
As usual (always?), Joyce is right. (You'd think I'd have figured that out by now!)