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January 14, 2005 - 9:37 am

SNATCH THIS PEBBLE FROM MY HAND

Okay, donít judge me, but I took one of those on-line IQ tests that showed up in my spam box about a year ago. I scored absurdly high, too, and then promptly forgot all about it. Then last week the company who offers the free test emailed me to let me know ďmy accountĒ was about to expire (as if) and offered to renew it (which means absolutely nothing) with the new ďSuper GeniusĒ version of the IQ test.

So, yeah, I took it. What can I say? I love tests. Well, they came back with my score and told me I ranked ďhigher than six people out of a thousand.Ē I think they worded it that way in case I was too daft to grasp the complex mathematical concept of being in the 0.6th percentile.

While Iím well aware that they may just have been flattering me to get me to buy something, and I understand that scoring above 99.4% of those taking an on-line intelligence test may not be as much of an accomplishment as scoring above 99.4% of astrophysicists, I must confess the cynic in me felt somewhat vindicated, since, in dealing with most people daily, I frequently overhear the little voices in my head debating something like this:

Cynical Goth-Girl Voice: Oh my god. Is it just me, or could this guy really be THAT stupid? How much longer can he talk about [insert idiotic topic here] without accidentally stumbling across an original thought? If he doesn't have brains, at least he could have the decency to be funny. Or nice. Shit, I need to pick up my dry cleaning before they close tonight. I wonder if the new Netflix have come in yet.

Voice of Tibetan Monk Spirit: Donít be such a know-it-all. Just keep your mouth shut and keep listening and you may learn something. Everyone in this world has something worthwhile to offer, and anyway, Lao-tzu says "Those who know are not 'widely learned'; those 'widely learned' do not know." So shut up and listen to this stupid guy, you disrespectful egg-head. And pass me that green tea while you're at it.

Cynical Goth Girl Voice: Yeah, well Caine says, "If one's words are not better than silence, one should keep silent;" so tell that to Lao-tzu, asshole.

But while I may have to score one for my cynical side this time, if Iím really truthful Iíd have to admit that more often than not itís the riteous monk-dude's voice that wins out because I do learn more from the most unlikely people than from those who are supposed to know a lot of stuff. Being smart doesnít always mean having the most information. Itís what you do with the information you have that makes you smart (she said in her best Master Po voice). Plus Iím southern, polite and a genuinely nice person besides, and to interrupt someone is extremely rude.

Hey, that reminds me of a story. I dated this guy back in college named Jim. He was a big red-headed guy, mostly full of self-doubt and fear, but thatís a whole other story. Jim had a little brother whose name I canít remember, so letís call him Chris. Actually, I think that's his real name. Chris. Anyway, both boys were somewhat spoiled by their mom (a Methodist minister, of all things), likely due to a very painful divorce. It was the classic mid-1970ís story of the kids who got a bunch of stuff to compensate for too little attention from either parent. Chris developed the typical younger siblingís desire to break away from the family, which he attempted by joining the Peace Corps and moving to South America. That was the last I heard of Chris for years because I couldn't tolerate his brother, Crybaby Jim, for long, and we broke up.

Then, after I got back from a long trip abroad, I spent a few days calling people I hadn't spoken to in a long time just to say hi. Okay, I was really calling old boyfriends to make amends and wish them all long and happy lives, and I was just too embarrassed to say that, but that's what I was doing. So when Crybaby Jim's name came up on the extensive list, I gave him a call; and during the course of the conversation he told me that Chris had a terrible time in South America. As it turned out, the volunteers had to live in CONCRETE HOUSES with NO ELECTRICITY and NO RUNNING WATER, and there were MOSQUITOS. Can you imagine? Then there was some trouble with the local authorities that resulted in all the volunteers having to evacuate immediately, refugee style. So I'm thinking, cool, Chris finally saw some action.

Well, as luck would have it, I ran into Chris outside the liquor store in Little Five Points a few months later, and, thinking he'd be dying to tell me a good story, I asked him about his Peace Corps experience. He said emphatically and with an almost imperceptible whine in his voice, "It SUCKED! I almost died." And then he proceeded to relay the lamest, most pitiful, version of something that could have been the second most awesome story ever told. I could barely contain myself from pointing out the chasm of missed opportunity. I said (to myself because I'm polite and all), "You experienced a coup d'etat in an unstable, third world country and had what many people would call the experience of a lifetime, and all you brought back from it was fear, bitterness, and mosquito bites?"

I was much more judgemental back then, but still, I have no use for a person like this. Even if it did suck and you almost died, have some dignity for Christ's sake and show a little respect for the people you LEFT BEHIND to sort it all out. Ever give any thought to their well being (which is supposedly why you went in the first place) or even wonder if they survived the whole ordeal and where they are now?

I mean, let's face it, if that's his approach to the unique opportunity he was given, then thereís really no room for assessing true value in any given situation. If it's really as obvious as Running Water = Good and Fleeing a Violent Government Coup = Bad, then there's no grey area in deciding whether something is a worthwhile experience. As I understood Chris that day, this was definitely true for him. Christmas SUCKED because he didn't get the toy he wanted; the Grinch won.

But I just wonder if there isn't another, perhaps less prescribed, way to look at the less than perfect things that happen to all of us at some point in our lives. It just seems like he's missed something, doesn't it?

I haven't seen or heard from Crybaby Jim or Peace Corps Chris since then, and I honestly hope they're both safe and happy wherever they are. As for me, I'm still searching and enjoying the occasional coup.

I think this entry may have ended up sounding like it was way more about Peace Corps Chris than I intended, but, frankly, Grasshopper, what you get out of it is entirely up to you.

~Samantha

recommended:
reading -The Razorís Edge by Summerset Maugham
viewing - Magnolia
listening -Sufi Music

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