I and those close to me have noticed for many years that i am not completely “normal.” Initially this lack of normalcy was chalked up to the fact that i was an only child. Or that my intellectual aptitude was different. Or that my parents were quite young when i was born. Or any number of other factors, including the fact that i am male, from an entirely blue-collar background, the grandchild of an abusive adult alcoholic and many other factors. This lack of normalcy manifested itself in many ways.
My parents have often recalled that, as a young child considering whether or not to do something wrong, that i would actively calculate whether or not the “crime was worth the time.” When the payoff was good enough, i would commit the crime and do the time, often without complaint.
Later on in my teen years, my best friend and I would spend hours (often in the midst of a game of “21” or “horse” on the basketball court) talking about what it was that made our friends, family, politicians, celebrities or other people tick. We were fascinated with people and their actions, and with the connections between the two.
Throughout High School and College, though i loved to be around people (i was relatively popular with classmates, and went to lots of public events, parties and other get-togethers), i would frequently take off for solo trips – sometimes for days at a time – to the beach, to the mountains or to the woods where i would write poetry, read, or just think – sometimes about people, sometimes about myself and sometimes about the the ultimate nature of reality.
As long as i can remember, though i have enjoyed travel, i have generally found just as much novelty in exploring local environments or in meeting new people close to home with different ethnic, socio-economic, religious and intellectual characteristics.
I have from a very early age seen serious sports as a type of performance art, have really felt that all people are deeply equal in the eyes of their creator and should be in the eyes of their fellow people, and that it is logically impossible for me to always be right. I have always believed that diligent, excellent work was important (though i did not always act in accordance with this belief). People have always often told me that i am hard to “rattle,” emotionally, but other people (sometimes the same people) have noted that i tend to do things with passion. I often am very un-impatient in long lines or delayed flights, as it gives me time to observe people as they deal with interesting social situations.
The combination of these characteristics might have been painfully enigmatic for me except for the fact that i could actually feel the combination, and have had many years to come to terms with the enigma. Too, i have no good option but to accept this odd set of characteristics, since they seem to be the “me” that has been developing (philosophy wonks might say “being constructed”) for many years now.
Other people, on the other hand, have not fared so well with this enigma – often becoming confused in their analysis of the unifying theme, if any, which might serve to shed light on who i am.
I think i am realizing now, at the age of 38, what one of the major unifying themes might be:
Oft understood to be a hermit who goes to the woods or a mountain to live a life of thought separate from the world, “contemplates” have been popularly misunderstood. Really, a true contemplate (without getting into a deep philosophical discussion here) is a person who can and does “contemplate” – views or considers with continued attention : meditates. And this sort of meditation can occur anywhere. It can happen on a delayed flight or in a long line. It can occur in a local bar with a group of friends or it can occur alone on a New Hampshire mountaintop at sunrise. It can occur on a basketball court or standing, as a 2-year old child, in front of the forbidden stereo knobs as he contemplates, meditates on, within his limited capabilities, the deeper dynamics of a moral/ethical situation before him. In every situation, though, the contemplate has a constant longing to look beneath the surface, to understand the underlying dynamics, to get at the non-obvious things of life.
The behavior of the contemplate can be problematic for those who are not familiar with their way of being. Their behavior often appears to be at best odd and at worst unhealthy. For example, to the more extrinsically oriented, the contemplate can seem detached from her emotions when she does not immediately join a popular cause, when she does not immediately reciprocate when accosted, or when she is calm in the midst of pain or tragedy. To the more prestige oriented, the contemplate’s lack of self-promotion can appear wishy-washy, and his lack of mutual back-slapping can make him seem withdrawn or unappreciative. To the more fundamentally oriented, the contemplate’s unwillingness to immediately accept popularly-accepted norms seems loose and dangerous.
There is no easy way to create mutual understanding between the contemplate and the not-so-contemplate, and perhaps there is no need, but i continue to search for ways. It is worth noting that neither the contemplate nor the not-so-contemplate hold a higher position in my judgment. The difference between them is not one of value, but instead of orientation to the world which then manifests itself in spirit and behavior.