Friday, August 21, 2015

"Excuse me, could I have your autograph?"

Jimmy Carter is getting treatment for cancer, I suppose the fact he's spending some of his time in Hospital shouldn't surprise anyone since he is 90, but still. Oliver Sacks has been saying his goodbyes and working on some important things as well as he deals with the cancer that's going to punch his ticket. I'll be sorry when he's gone. This is on my mind because they are both people that I've admired for years and whose writing I've benefited from reading, and, this is sort of embarrassing, they're both people I hoped I might get to meet someday.

I'm really not one of those "Can I have your autograph Mister?" sort of persons and it's not like I thought I was going to make a new Best Friend and start sitting in on patient sessions with Ollie or goofing off pranking the Secret Service Detail with Jimmy or anything like that. It's more like secretly nurtured hopes to bump into Mr. Carter in an out of the way part of the National Gallery on a rainy afternoon(He does Paint after all) or find myself in line behind Dr. Sacks at a vintage bookstore somewhere. You know, a setting that would automatically define me as a thoughtful, insightful person, a person you might want to extend a hand to and engage in conversation with when I shamble up and ask "Can I have your autograph Mister?"  It's not exactly hero worship but it's more than just "Hmmm, that Dude makes some interesting points, I wonder what he's like to talk to..." 5 minutes chatting with either of them would be a big deal to me and put a finer edge to the satisfaction I'd get reading their work for the rest of my life.

I was thinking about this the other day in the bushes outside the White House; What is it about some people who we'll probably never ever meet, that makes us want to connect with them somehow? And other people who write just as well, sing or tell jokes just as well or whatever, can stroll past in the Airport and we don't do more than jab our partner in the ribs and whisper, "Check it out, THAT'S HER!... you know, the one that does that thing! On TeeVee..." For example; I really like reading E.O.Wilson but have never been tempted to write him a letter or plan what I would say if I ever bumped into him at Wal-Mart. Same with Stephen Jay Gould, I've read at least a dozen books of his and got something worthwhile out of every single one of them but when he passed away I wished his atheistic soul farewell but never thought "too bad I never got to meet old Steve". In fact, I once passed up an opportunity to hear him speak in a situation where it might have been easy to meet him after the lecture and ask him to sign a copy of whatever book he had just cranked out, but I passed it up to go see Russ Myer's "Faster Pussycat, KILL KILL!" with some young ladies my Grandmother would describe as having "Fallen short of the Glory". No regrets on that one.

When I was in college I went with some friends to hear Betty Friedan speak at Hollins College and had this startling realization about why I kept finding myself trying to date Feminists. I'd read "The Feminine Mystique" and it had all sort of gone over my head, but after hearing her speak from 20 feet away, I started trying to unravel some thought I'm still untangling today. There are other Writers who plow that same field that I respect and admire but I'm content to engage them in print, but if she were still around I'd like to go get in Ms. Friedan's bubble again. That was a powerful experience and I still feel a bit of it every time I read something she wrote, see her photo or hear her name.  It's not just Writers I feel this way about either, there are some Artists and Musicians(Chrissie Hynde from "The Pretenders", Buddy Guy) a VERY few politicians(who, like President Carter, get on the list because they have something useful to say AND can write really well) and a couple of spectacularly squared-away people who don't really have a catagory. I'd really like to spend half an hour asking any of them some questions and getting a sense of the person behind the work.

There are a few people that are important to me that I would avoid if given the chance. Christopher Hitchens for example. I can't think of anyone else that is as challenging, as thought provoking or so able to make me want to go brush up on some subject as he was. I agreed with him on a great deal but could never come around to some of his other positions and would have liked to have had the opportunity to ask him some questions.Or maybe not. Really, I don't think I would have ever willingly taken a seat next to him. Perhaps somewhere conversation would have been impossible(a Tractor Pull perhaps?) but where I could have gotten my picture taken beside him to hang on my wall. I think engaging that guy in a discussion about anything he gave a Damn about would have been like walking up to Blackbeard and asking if he might show you his Cutlass. Risky. Very risky.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about Jimmy Carter and Oliver Sacks. Both of them have helped me understand things that I needed to get a handle on. Things that have helped me reconcile the crazy assortment of things I believe and wonder about and hope for, and also things that have helped me be a bit more content when there is no way to reconcile those things. Anyone that does that for you is a friend and you can be forgiven for wanting to shake their hand or give them a pat on the shoulder as a way to connect and keep a  bit of that friendship, or whatever it is, alive when they've gone. I suppose I need to give up on my hope to share a sandwich with either of them so I'll just say what I would then, now.

Thank you Mr. President. Thank you Dr. Sacks, you've both been good to me and I won't forget.

Peace and Blessings on you.


1 comment:

  1. I'm not old enough to appreciate Jimmy, but thanks to the guys at RadioLab, who brought him on as a regular guest, I mourned Ollie's death greatly. Rest in peace Mr. Sachs and a big thanks to Jad and Richard for introducing a younger generation to the great poet-scientist.