Last summer, my friend Jim traveled to Portland, OR for O’Reilly’s Open Source Conference (OSCON). Portland has a great public transportation system. When Jim’s plane landed, he headed over to the light rail to take it to the conference center. Somewhere between the airport and the conference center, some stranger got on the train, walked up to Jim, punched him in the eye, and got off the train.
Everyone I’ve told that story to has looked incredulously at me and asked “what?”
A stranger walked up to him and punched him in the eye.
The next question they usually ask is “Why”.
“Why” is such a tough question. It is so unknowable. The other problem with “why” is that knowing the answer is not always helpful. Perhaps the stranger thought Jim was someone else with whom he had a grudge. Maybe the stranger knew Jim was part of the Jini team and he truly hates Jini. It could be that the stranger was mentally ill.
Whatever the reason, Jim still walked around with a black eye.
There are times that knowing why is helpful. Maybe not “why” but knowing the other person “didn’t mean it” or “didn’t know.”
The punches in the face I’m dreading are the ones six months from now when the three of us are out somewhere and someone who doesn’t know asks “where’s the little one?” It’s still a black eye – but they don’t know. It’s not their fault. They mean well.
A little boy ran up to Kim the other day and gave her a big smile and said “Hi Elena’s mom.” Kim gave him a smile back and talked to him a bit before he rushed to get into the school before the bell rang. And then she wept. Was she Elena’s mom anymore? I said yes. She was still Egelio’s granddaughter even though he died several years ago. But it’s tougher to be Elena’s mom without Elena than it is to be Egelio’s granddaughter without Egelio.
Had Elena Maxine been a boy, her name would have been Maxwell Egelio.
I received an unexpected punch in the face yesterday. I’ve always wanted to write fiction and have read tons of books on it. I’ve co-written nine or so non-fiction books on mathematics or computer programming but have always wanted to try my hand at a novel or a mystery. There are many things that keep me from trying. For one thing, if you’d read about Jim being punched in the face by a stranger in a novel you would have said “oh, that couldn’t happen”. I think fiction is much harder than reality.
I’ve started working a bit this week. And I’ve tried to read here and there. I went to the Shaker library and picked up a bunch of books including Ellen Gilchrist’s collection of essays called “The Writing Life”.
She writes, “I think I am happy because I have quit trying to find happiness through other people. No one else can give you happiness after you become an adult. Happiness is self-derived and self-created.” Wow. I agree with all that. Maybe her book will be full of gems that help me find my way as a writer.
But here’s her very next sentence. Not only does it seem to fly in the face of the previous three, but I felt that I had been set up with a couple of jabs for this huge punch in the eye. She writes, “I derive happiness from the fact that my children and grandchildren are alive and breathing and that I am here to watch their lives unfold.”
I’m reading a book on writing and out of nowhere have to confront the fact that one of my children is no longer alive and breathing and that the promise of her life will never unfold.
I know Gilchrist would never have said that to me if she’d known about Elena. But pages later after other notes on happiness that I could again agree with or at least understand, she writes, “I wouldn’t be happy now if I had no progeny. The reason I don’t fear death is that every chromosome of me is already in younger people.”
Kim and I always wanted to adopt a child and have a child. We did just that. I know Gilchrist is only speaking for herself, but there was never a difference in the love we felt for Maggie and Elena. They were both our daughters and they were clearly sisters. The fact that Maggie does not derive her chromasomes from Kim and me does not make her less our daughter. You can see so much of the two of us in her. We would not mourn her death any differently than we do Elena’s.
I may not be ready to read books on writing right now.