The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Must That Feel Like?

“Time slips away, mister,
And leaves you with nothing but
Boring stories of glory days.”

--Bruce Springsteen

Yes, I know. This was supposed to be about the three people who helped me through my mother’s slow, horrible, 114-day deathwatch, but every time I tried to start it it either ended up eleven pages long or went so hopelessly off topic that I finally took the hint my psyche was trying to tell me and decided to put it off. However, I did want to write my blog, so I’ve decided to babble about a certain humbling feeling I get when I see certain people doing certain things. Allow me to be more clear.

Regular readers of my blog probably can agree that I’ve seen and experienced some pretty extraordinary and downright weird things. However, there is nothing (and I must stress this) there is really nothing outstanding about myself. Yes, I’m smarter than the average bear and I sometimes have an uncanny ability to sense when something is horribly wrong with people between the ages of 18 and 22, but other than that, God didn’t deal me many aces.

It is because of this that I so often see a truly extraordinarily person do something amazing, and I sit in my den, stare at the TV, and say in complete wonder; “Oh my God…what must that feel like?” I shall now give examples—maybe you have thought about them, too.

President of the United States Example

The first president I remember is Richard M. Nixon, and the first thing I remember him doing was resigning on television. My mom and I were cuddling in her bed (God, I miss that) and although I understood only about a third of what President Nixon was saying, I could sense something bad was happening. I asked my mom what was going on.

I was a bright kid, but not bright enough to grasp the concept of Watergate at age five, so my mother just explained that the president had lied. Well, that I understood—I knew lying was a very, very bad thing, and the fact that the president had done it to the whole country—well, that was unconscionable.

Later that night, I went up to my mother and asked, “Mommy, was President Nixon making that up as he went along?” (This seemed perfectly reasonable to me; after all, I told myself elaborate stories every day). My mom said no, and explained that he had a team of people to write his speeches for him. (I think a five-year old’s equivalent of “what an illiterate clod” went through my mind at this point).

It didn’t hit me until President Clinton’s first inaugural address. I was watching it with my friends and suddenly my mind drifted from what Clinton was actually saying to this:

“This is the most powerful man in the world. And someone—unseen and uncredited—wrote his words. What is it like to hear your words come out of the mouth of the person who could change the world? What must that feel like?

I was fascinated by this. And then, of course, we had Bush, whose speechwriters must have gone through about eleven thousand bottles of Excedrin.

Billy Joel Example

My cousin Annemarie just went to a Billy Joel concert, and I’m extremely jealous. I’ve been a huge Billy fan since junior high, yet have never seen him live. In 1990, he was performing at Yankee Stadium. I was all set—I rounded up a group of fellow Billy fans, saved my money, and…and…my best friend chose that day to get married.

I was disappointed, but happily, MTV aired the concert several months later so I was at least able to watch it on television. The whole show was awesome, and of course one of his encore songs was “Piano Man.”

Billy took his harmonica and played the opening notes. The crowd went wild. He began singing the first verse, but soon realized something; he was being drown out by the crowd. By the time he got to the first chorus, no one could hear Billy at all, even with his microphone. He got a very amused look on his face, shrugged his shoulders in a sort of “okay, whatever” way, and held out the microphone toward the audience, which was entirely on its feet, swaying and singing.

Yankee Stadium holds over 52,000 people. I cannot even conceive of that many people packed into one venue. And all of them—every single one of them—was singing the song he wrote to him. I sat on the sofa, gaping. And again, all I could think of was: “Oh my God…what must that feel like?”

Billy got a big kick out of it. I’d have fainted.

Michael Phelps Example

I enjoy the Olympics even though I have absolutely no sporting ability whatsoever. I admire athletes because they possess the discipline to make their bodies do whatever they want. I just eat a lot of potato chips.

As you all know, this year, the untouchable star was Michael Phelps. As he is very young, I’m not sure if he grasps the enormity of what he did. But I do, and I’m not talking about the fact he won eight freakin’ gold medals—I just want to talk about one; for any sport, for any Olympic athlete.

Whenever an American athlete wins an Olympic gold medal, I am incapable of sitting through the medal ceremony without bursting into tears at the playing of our national anthem, especially if the athlete her/himself begins crying (which they usually do).

I sit there, staring, astounded first at the words. “In the gold medal position, representing the United States of America…” and begin to shiver. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to hear your name after those words. Then, of course, they clanked another gold medal around Michael Phelps’ neck, and began playing our national anthem and raising our flag.

And I felt so…insignificant. And again, in my imagination: “I’m representing my entire country. Billions of people are watching this. That flag is being raised for me. Our anthem is being played for me. My God, what must that feel like?

Queen of England Example

Being only 42, Queen Elizabeth II is the only reigning monarch of the United Kingdom I have ever known, and I suspect I will feel quite weird when I have to start saying “King Charles.” However, what fascinated me most about Queen Elizabeth is the fact that whenever she attends a public event, everyone stands and sings “God Save The Queen.” I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to have that happen every time I went somewhere.

I have a very loving and devoted British friend to whom I once posed the question, “how do you think the queen feels hearing ‘God Save The Queen’ every time she goes to an official event?” My friend, whose sense of humor is only slightly more skewed than mine, quirked: “I imagine she’s pretty sick of it by now.”

Michael Jackson Example:

The last time I had my nails done by the angry Vietnamese woman, Michael Jackson had just tragically passed. They have a large plasma TV in the salon, which was showing a Michael Jackson concert (It was the Dangerous tour). However, the cameras didn’t seem too interested in Michael himself—what they kept showing was the crowd, which of course was made overwhelmingly of young people.

I don’t know what the venue was, but Michael was fantastic and the special effects were overwhelming. But I kept staring at the crowd. People (mostly girls) were screaming his name, sobbing hysterically, flailing, and at least four girls passed out and had to be dragged out by security. I have always found the concept of crowd hysteria to be fascinating (I wish Paul McCartney would return my call and explain it), but all I could think of was, “one man is causing absolute hysteria in tens of thousands of people. What must that feel like?

BeowulfGirl Example:

Two terms ago, I had a shy, brilliant student I’ll call Ellen. On the first day of class, I asked (as always) what my students’ career goals were. Ellen said she would like to become a lawyer. I told her that was a fine choice and wished her luck.

Fifteen weeks later, after the last day of class, Ellen lingered. I asked if she was all right and she told me, with an odd tone that she no longer had any intention of becoming a lawyer, but a college English professor. Horrified, I told her she’d make ten times less than if she became an attorney. Here is here response:

“But I chose it because of you, Professor BeowulfGirl. You changed my life. You change everyone’s life. Can I ask you something?”

Somewhat shaken I said, “sure.”

With a profound, idolatrous look, and asked: “What does it feel like?

And my world. . . shifted.