All right, my challenge for the day is to go for 24 hours without uttering the name of a certain Republican vice presidential candidate. I’m sick and tired of the talk, the rumors, the hysteria. Hell, I’m sick of my own talk, rumors and hysteria.
I’ve done what I can — given money to the Obama campaign. I will be calm. I will breathe deeply. I will keep my mouth shut and my ears covered. I will be in a state of bliss. Life will be beautiful. No, really. Beautiful!
As the hammers pound and the painters scrape off the exterior of our house (about time, I’m sure our neighbors are thinking. Their house has looked like something out of The Grapes of Wrath for a couple of years), I’m thinking about someone else, not the Woman Whose Name Will Not Be Spoken Today. I read about that someone else in the most recent issue of the Texas Bar Journal.
If you’re an inactive member of the bar, as I am, you pick up this monthly magazine mostly for gossip. That is: Who’s died and who’s been disbarred. My law school class of 1976 has sustained a number of deaths, but few professional problems. Except for this one guy. Over the years, he’s been disbarred and suspended and reinstated. Every time I’ve seen his name, I couldn’t quite believe it.
In law school, he was smart, a constant talker, boring (since he never managed to listen — just talked about himself at a Fed Ex pace). But stable! I would have sworn up and down he was one of the straight arrows in our section, married and settled into premature middle age and a paunch. If I’d thought about it, I would have predicted he’d have a small, successful law practice in North Texas, where people paid to listen to him.
It was drugs and drink that sent him reeling out of control and wrecked his legal practice. He got divorced and evidently hasn’t remarried. My sister and I saw him about 15 years at a pro-choice march. Predictably, he told us all about himself, but never asked about our lives. “Anyone who knew me in law school,” he said, “would have predicted I’d have a substance-abuse problem.”
No, I don’t think so. Lots of people in their twenties and thirties drink a lot. Most of our law school class did, including me. But then, at some point, we moderated, we stopped.
So, who becomes the addict? Is it written in the genes or created out of your life’s experiences? Or a combination of both?
Beyond that, it makes me realize, once again, that we all think we’re good judges of character, that we “know” other people. But we don’t. I’ve been surprised too many times, hoodwinked, in fact. Like a faculty member I knew pretty well who resigned in disgrace. She didn’t just fudge her data; she’d never even run the studies she wrote up. She’d always seemed straightforward and honest and self-effacing to me. Who would have guessed her entire professional career was a lie? At the end, could I even believe the story she once told me about her dog being on Prozac? Did she even have a dog?
So how do I wrap this up, make these ramblings into a coherent narrative? In the background, the painters are scraping and talking. The Rat Whisperer has come and gone without a rodent in the trap. But, I tell him, my husband and I heard the rat last night. He’s still there, avoiding capture. In fact, according to one of our neighbors, our whole neighborhood is infested with rats. Great. Glad to know that.
So, here: Our house has a rat. Our neighborhood has rats. Our political world is full of rats and we know it. But, as a nation, we’re imperfect creatures ourselves with too much trust in our own abilities to judge character and vote for the right candidate. Some of us are pretty sure there’s a rat around Whose Name Will Not Be Spoken. But who in the hell is going to catch it on a pretty tight deadline?
All you can do is get the house painted and give the money to the presidential campaign and hope the rat traps eventually work. Then breathe deeply and remember — life is beautiful. Namaste.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)