12 August 2012


As soon as I became self-aware, and especially after I was plunged into the highly social environment of elementary school (no kindergarten existed where I lived), unavoidably I began to draw comparisons between myself and others.  Being shy, I was highly observant, and wished for friends, but I had no experience to guide me in connecting.  Any new situation, from being flirted with to being bullied, left me wondering how to respond.

Perhaps it was due to my family being somewhat nomadic during my early years, leaving me always the new kid in school when we moved.  Whatever, it took me many years to learn to make conversation easily.  Who am I kidding, I'm still learning.  But watching and listening made me realize that certain traits would be an advantage for someone who feels insecure or left out.

As I've grown older, my wish list of personal qualities has changed.  Many of the traits I once regarded with embarrassment, I now cherish with pride ~ like my ability to step back and see the larger picture, uncluttered by irrelevant details, which ironically may have grown from that itinerant life which left me feeling shy as a child.  Other personal features I would definitely trade in on a different model.  Among them ~

  • Height.  I'm an average 5'9" tall, of slender build.  That's useful for climbing trees or squirreling into small spaces, but in social gatherings it doesn't create a very imposing image (or at least that's how it seems when you're young).  Next life ~ 6' tall.
  • Eyesight.  My vision is unusual ~ I'm nearsighted in one eye, farsighted in the other.  When I got my first glasses at age 5, the eye doctor didn't understand the situation, and wanted to prescribe lenses so that my "good" nearsighted eye would match my "bad" farsighted eye.  Thankfully my parents said no.  In visual acuity, my good eye is 20/40 uncorrected, and my bad eye is 20/100 uncorrected.  Even with glasses, I've spent the past sixty years using mostly the good eye, and seeing only half the world that others see.  Next life ~ perfect vision in both eyes.
  • Freaking shyness.  I hate that I feel conversationally crippled when meeting new people.  It's only within the last decade or two that I've learned to carry myself with something resembling social grace.  I self-mockingly blame it on my siblings.  My brother is 8 years younger than I, my sister is 13 years younger.  I was in effect an only child, with very few kids near my age with whom to learn how to interact.  I didn't really get to know my brother or sister until they became adults.  Next life ~ one or two siblings much closer to my age, and not so much moving to new places.
  • Whistling loudly.  Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's one of those genetic traits like people who can roll their tongues into a rightside-up or upside-down U.  I can whistle a tune through pursed lips like most people, but cannot produce one of those piercing, attention-getting whistles heard over distance or noise.  (Here is a video which claims to show anyone how to whistle loudly.  I'm skeptical.)  Next life ~ you get the idea.  And no fingers needed, either.
  • Thinking quickly on my feet.  You know how, during a confrontation or discussion, the point arrives that simply begs for a witty rejoinder, but your plodding brain doesn't come up with it until two days later (or someone else beats you to the punch).  Life experience and being in a variety of situations are good training, but some people seem to come by the quick comeback naturally.  Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx.  Next life ~ confidence and rapid-fire neurons.
  • Allergies.  Pollens, dust and smoke can leave me incapacitated.  A home with air conditioning is a must during pollen season.  Next life ~ no allergies.
  • Memory.  I'm reasonably intelligent (IQ 135), but I have to use repetition and image association to retain most new information, whether it's scientific nomenclature or people's names.  I had to work hard for my good grades.  That's not a bad thing, but .... Next life ~ eidetic memory.
  • Languages.  I've formally studied Latin (2 years), Spanish (1 year), and French (1 year).  Each language took intense concentration, even though all three are etymologically related.  My difficulty might be rooted in memory function, or to some other manner of conceptualization.  I envy those who are fluent in multiple languages.  I suspect the nuances of vocabulary, syntax and grammar would come more easily if one were actually living in the culture.  Next life ~ immersion learning.
  • Money.  I grew up poor.  Long before it became common practice, my mother worked outside the home, as far back as I can remember.  Both my parents imparted a strong work ethic upon me, but they lacked the education needed for more remunerative jobs.  My own college education was put on hold until my late 30s, and my life since then has been (irony abounds) so nomadic that it wasn't often I could put my degree to use.  Long story short, in my retirement I'm barely scraping by, without inherited wealth or a lifetime nest egg on which to draw for travel or a cushy lifestyle.  Next life ~ born into modest wealth, or into a somewhat more urban setting with access to fine schools and culture, or into better opportunities to grow wealth on my own.
  • Identity.  No lack or complaint, but a mighty curiosity to experience life as another does.  Next life ~ born female, or in a different culture, or as a cat.
Having said all that, you might reasonably conclude that I lead a miserable life.  Far from it.  I thoroughly enjoy classical music, fine dining, quality books and movies and art, live theater, and the animated exchange of ideas..  I'm proud of my achievements, proud of my understanding of the natural world and the human world, immensely proud of the fine man my son has become, happy in my solid, lifelong friendships, and I take great satisfaction in my ability to parse out the nuances of everything from politics to relationships.  I've loved often and well, kayaked wild rivers, seen birds and animals which many people have not seen, gazed up into a prairie night sky lit by billions of stars, been transported by beauty, and faced death in many forms.  

So the gentle reader must understand that much of the above is presented with tongue in cheek, knowing that many, many people on the planet live in survival mode, without the advantages I enjoy.  I look back on my life, and see a colorful, challenging, satisfying journey.  'Course, I could see it so much better with perfect vision .... 

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