Today was, in many ways, an odd day. Being an odd person, I suppose it is normal to have odd days, yet my days are often odd in different ways, depending on the day, and are not odd in the same way, which would not be odd at all, I suppose. Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy is famous for saying that all happy families are happy alike but all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Not too long ago I looked at a statistical analysis of free throw shooters that demonstrated that successful free throw shooters in basketball tend to shoot in the same way (or almost the same way) while unsuccessful free throw shooters were unsuccessful in their own way. Often in life, there is one way of doing something right, or at least one set of conditions that represents success, while any deviation from these factors represents a sign of failure. One of the reasons this happens is because many of the same conditions must be present for success in anything—including a generally positive attitude, good communication skills, enough resilience and persistence to cope with difficulty, an ability to get along with others and put yourself in the place of others, and an ability to trust and inspire the trust of others. None of these are necessarily rocket science, but together they represent essential elements of widespread challenges.
One of the books I read recently reflected on the fact that baby reptiles do not cry. Since the most hazardous predator for baby reptiles is often the adult reptiles of their own species, including their parents and other relatives , survival for a baby reptile depends on keeping silent and avoiding drawing the attention of predatory elders. Baby mammals, on the other hand, do cry, because one of the main aspects that separates mammals from reptiles is the fact that while reptiles prey on their young, mammals are loving and nurturing and care for little ones. A cry that would be a sign of danger for a baby reptile is, for a baby mammal, a way for it to have its needs met. Since mammals of all kind (and not only humans) have deep needs for emotional relatedness with others, and suffer horribly when isolated and deprived of love and affection, and since baby mammals (especially people) are quite helpless when small, the well-being of a little one often depends on the ability it has to draw help and assistance from the bigger people around it when it cries. The responsiveness of those around a child to its cries, and the ability such a child has of making itself and its needs understood, can be the difference between life and death, or the difference between a successful life and a life of immense struggle and difficulty.
For much of today I was in an extended and somewhat witty conversation with some of my neighbors at work that involved my inside knowledge of redneck ways. Although I have always been at great pains to avoid behaving like an uneducated person from the boondocks, the fact that I spent much of my childhood as a resident of rural areas in Central Florida and Western Pennsylvania, and being an astute and observant outsider in such areas, and a careful observer of the ways of my neighbors means that I have acquired a fair amount of knowledge about those ways. Despite my own desire not to be reminded of my youth, I find some humor in using the language and cultural cues of my childhood as a source of humor. Among this humor were jokes about rocky mountain oysters, blue tick coonhounds like those found in “Where The Red Fern Grows,” and the pronunciation of ‘murica, among many other similar jokes. The laughter, even if it was on delicate personal ground, was much appreciated, even if I would never want to identify myself as belonging to a community that spent so many years being so brutally unkind to me.
When I was a young adult visiting Pennsylvania, I had the chance of going to the movies with my father, where we ended up seeing a movie he considered one of his favorites, “Tears Of The Sun.” To briefly summarize the movie, it portrays the efforts of a group of Seals to save a doctor and some religious folk from a brutal group of Nigerian rebels. A dramatic escape across international borders, involving a lot of fighting and death follows. My father’s ideal of a movie was that featuring non-stop action and a clear demarcation between good and evil. What I saw as the self-sacrificial willingness of people to sacrifice themselves for the well-being of others at grave cost to themselves, along with a refusal to give up our own ideals and dignity despite immense horror, my father saw as an exciting movie full of fast-paced action where the good guys ultimately prevailed. The title of the film suggests a sentiment that human beings can readily appreciate: the sun is portrayed as weeping over the cruelty of people to their brethren, to their neighbors and perhaps even their relatives. The sun must have a lot of tears to shed, if it sees the horrors we inflict on each other. For we shed enough tears ourselves experiencing them, witnessing them, and reflecting back on them, even if those tears seem to do us no good except to remind us that we are mammals after all, and not the reptiles we are sometimes thought to be. Perhaps simply remaining human is a modest kind of success after all.