"Yer gonna cra-ack! Yer gonna cra-ack! Nah nah nah nah nah!" I teased her, because this general issue has has become one of comic relief for us by this time.
Of course, that little dollop of quasi-reverse psychology made her even more determined to avoid yet another repetition of the pattern that has historically characterized their exchange: the self-centered kid affronts, Cayley rejects, and then all hell breaks loose as the kid goes overboard on the social warpath seeking disproportionate revenge. Cayley began to formulate alternate strategies in earnest, and concluded that she should clear the path for another girl to re-establish appropriate boundaries on their joint behalf, thus getting the job done while simultaneously deflecting the heat from herself.
"Why bother with games like that?" I asked (paraphrasing). "Just deal with it straight up. Give her what you think she deserves."
"Mama!" she admonished, giggling insanely. "Why are you always so impatient?"
It's a valid question and I often forget that neither Cayley nor Lawrence will ever be fully able to understand the answer to it, because neither has seen the things that I've seen in my life. We are all products of our experiences, and they simply weren't a product of mine, so I thought I'd take a crack at further explaining that here.
Bullshit makes me impatient because I've had the privilege of seeing so much of humanity that is diametrically opposed to it, AND because I've watched so much of that extraordinary humanity die.
I've worked extremely hard in my life to maximize the opportunities I was given, but I also had something else going for me: I got an enormous number of lucky breaks along the way.
Without question, my luckiest breaks entailed opportunities to meet extraordinary people who ultimately gave so much of themselves to me. I can't produce a laundry list of ALL those people and their corresponding gifts in this blog, because it would make many of them uncomfortable if I told their stories out loud. So what I'll do instead to make my point is restrict my descriptions to just a few of the dead ones, the ones whose social comforts I no longer have to consider:
|No other human being has had as profound an effect on my life's trajectory as my friend Graham: he was the man who brought me to America as an intern at Johnson Space Center, the event from which pretty much all else in my life has derived. He was arguably the most accomplished scientist of his specialty in the entire world when he died, and a crater has been named on the Moon in his honor. When I think of him now, it's not his pioneering and absolutely ferocious intellect I remember, however - it's his wit, and his depth of feeling. Years after I worked for him, we were having a visit when he looked at me and said, "I need to talk to you about something I've got going on in my life, because you're the only one I can trust." I don't know what I ever did to deserve the honor of holding such a great person's trust inside of myself. |
Graham was killed by cancer at the age of 52.
|When I was asked to say a few words at Larry's memorial service, I totally bunged it up. I couldn't begin to explain what he meant to me then, and I can't do it now either. Factually, Larry was my graduate thesis advisor and the leader of our research team at Washington University in St. Louis. I doubt if anyone would argue that he was one of the finest scientists who has ever lived, of any discipline; the scientific community was not content simply to name a crater on the Moon after him - they had to dedicate landform on Mars in his name as well. In the photo above, you can see eyes that are kind yet absolutely uncompromising; a piercing, exacting intellect who taught me through and through that I need to be myself, regardless of the cost or degree of nonconformity. The last time I visited Larry, he openly mourned the fact that I was not able to bring Cayley with me (she was in school); just days from dying, he was not concerned with his own situation or comforts - he just wanted to be able to reach out and contribute to the people he cared about. |
Larry was killed by myelofibrosis at the age of 70.
I get impatient with people because I've been privileged to receive extraordinary gifts, the very best that humanity has to offer, both intellectually and emotionally. When I see people acting in stupid, vindictive, or self-absorbed ways, it doesn't strike me as being an irritation or an inconvenience - it strikes me as being an obscenity. It's just such a vulgar contrast to the unimaginable generosity that I've been lucky enough to receive in my life and the remarkable human courage I've witnessed that I simply cannot deal with it.
I've watched people struggling to do justice to their loved ones even as they were sucking in their last breaths. I've watched incredibly loving, extraordinary human beings dying horrible premature deaths in front of me without a single thought to their own needs, their excrutiating pain, or their unfulfilled potential. And I'm supposed to feel some degree of patience or sympathy toward people who act like self-centered idiots? Not too f*cking likely to happen, I'm afraid. I don't have it in me. I don't want to have it in me. I just want to get away from that kind of stuff as fast as humanly possible. It no longer sounds like a cliche' when it's dying people who are teaching it to you: life is too short and too precious to waste on intractable situations.
Anyway, that's a portion of the short version as to why I am routinely impatient with people. Contrary to our social and cultural doctrine, patience is not automatically warranted. Sometimes I need to save it up for the people upon whom I really need to be expending it: the extraordinary people who are still on this earth, who bless me with their genuine love - the ones I struggle to do justice to, whose gifts I'll never be able to repay.
"I just want to hear stories about Cayley,"
a ninety-pound Didi murmured from her hospital bed.
|Mama Didi Stuart: The Ghost of Halloween Past.|