Now please don't fall over with shock while I digress for a moment...Last year I was talking to someone about writing a book and I mentioned that I had done so - indeed, had realized my goal and had published a book - and I was faced with a strange reaction to it. Upon hearing that, at the age of fifty, I had written what amounted to a memoir, he was incredulous. "A memoir?" he said, "You're too young to write a memoir!" Now, after bludgeoning him to the ground with a handy baseball bat for having the bloody cheek (and boy, did he end up with bloody cheeks) to express incredulity (and therefore making me spell it twice at some point in the future when I would write a blog piece about it), I picked him up and hugged him for suggesting that I was too young for anything. And then I thought: am I supposed to wait until I'm too old to enjoy it before writing about my life? Silly man, I thought, and as an act of ultimate revenge (I prefer to gloss over the whole bludgeoning issue), I didn't buy a house from him.
So: reflection. Dr. Sacks recounted two stories wherein he was almost killed - or at least seriously injured - by either murderous or merely reckless people, and to which he reacted in two distinctly different ways. In the first instance, after a driver had twice deliberately tried to knock him off his motorcycle, he caught up with the car at a set of traffic lights and, of all things, reached into the car and (incidentally, he was a big, powerful man) and twisted the man's nose with all his strength. Apart from making me laugh out loud, this struck me as the kind of violence that a man of true intelligence - which he most certainly was - might employ, instead of the mindless bludgeoning that, um...some of our...um...less intellectually blessed fellow humans might employ (cue: embarrassed whistling).
On the second, and oddly similar occasion, he followed the inexplicably homicidal driver until his car ended up in a dead-end street with no escape. He leaped off his motorcycle, swinging a camera monopod around his head like...well, like a baseball bat, I suppose... and advanced upon the vehicle with vengeance in his heart. As I said, Oliver was a big, strong guy, and when he reached the car, he found inside four terrified teenagers, one of whom was also a very stupid terrified driver. When he saw this, all thoughts of payback left his mind. He lowered his weapon and walked away without a word, reasoning that all parties, having anticipated death in the immediate past, had little to gain from prolonging the encounter.
What wisdom (like I said, he was a fiercely intelligent fellow) he showed. I wish that I'd read this piece much earlier in my life, because it would probably have saved me from having rather a lot of rage-fuelled episodes (mostly road-related, I have to say). Oh I haven't had tons of actual fisticuffs episodes (just the one, in fact, when I was attacked and I ended up subduing and arresting that particular piece of shit), but I have inflicted upon myself all the emotional loading of such encounters, and as a result - on each occasion - ruined at least one day of my life in the process.
Just lately, however, I've been doing something a little different, and having noticed it, I found the Oliver Sacks piece to be especially meaningful. Recently (over the last year or so), I've been turning down the wick on my annoyance or anger. There are still just as many idiots out there in the world, and I still run into as many reasons to throw my hands in the air (I don't detach them to do so, by the way - come on now, think about it: how would I catch them or re-attach them?), but in most cases, I've started to metaphorically (perhaps metaphysically?) turn the other cheek.
Partly - well actually, mostly - I began to do this as a self-preservation strategy. Firstly, stress is supposed to be a healthy thing, and creating stress needlessly (after all, a dickhead in a car is going to be out of my life in less than sixty seconds no matter what else happens) seems like a less than intelligent choice. Secondly - and this is pertinent now and will become more so as I age even more - I am not the man that I once was. Oh, I think that in extremis I could probably still give a good account of myself, but physical encounters would take a lot more out of me than they ever used to, and that will only become more extreme as the years go by. Simply put: my fighting days are over, and before long, it's going to be very obvious to any young buck that this is so. I haven't had a fight for at least fifteen years (they were all either work or sport-related anyway) and that, frankly, is how I like it. As I grow older, I must abandon the testosterone-laden attitudes of my youth and accept that a last-ditch stand to protect myself and my family would probably be a last-breath event. On balance, it's probably better to walk away - even with dented pride - than to try to back up my bluster with physical action.
It's a ruthless universe, but it teaches me that I really am not the strong and athletic man I once was (stop laughing; it's true!), and that these days, my pen is probably a lot mightier than my sword. It's a chastening realization on the one hand, but on the other, it's also something of a relief to realize that I don't need to be the tough guy that I once thought I had to be, just to survive in a world that frightened me. I would have liked to have found this out a long time ago.