Last night, I dreamed that I met an older man, a neurologist, who was everything that I am not—suave, urbane, noted in his career, a patron of the arts, knowledgeable of the great museums of Europe, and, I suspected, gay. He invited me home, and I was flattered. He was a collector, as I soon learned, and his collection consisted, in the main, of industrial-size diesel engines, million dollar sports cars, and grand pianos. He allowed his many guests to play the pianos, but the rest were virginal, and, except for the yellow diesel engines, white. He had a strict rule that his guests wash in front of one another at an ancient lavatory before his always formal dinners, and it was then that I awakened. I was awed by this man as I was awed by other such men who paid attention to me when I was younger. I adored my awe just as I adored this rich man who was everything I am not.
I have learned too much of the personal lives of the Mozarts and the Bobby Fischers, and I have seen the mighty fall quickly and unexpectedly to be in awe of anyone in a generalized sense. A little metal through the skull of a John Kennedy, or a little less blood to the brain of a Tim Russert…. The best of us are like bowls of ice cream on the edge of a wobbly table on a hot day in a roomful of hungry children. The exact course of our lives might be unknown, but an early end can be confidently expected.
I miss being in awe, of seriously thinking that my chemistry professor could mix up any magical concoction if it suited him; or, in a much earlier memory, of believing that there were experts who could perform any task whatsoever—including that of saving a president whose brains had been blown out.
I see a paradox in my life. You could show me a man (or a woman), and you could say to me, “Lowell, that man’s IQ is half again as high as yours, and he can learn twice as fast and remember twice as long. Now, what do you think of that?”
“I think that’s very nice,” I would answer, “but of what use is it to me?” “Well, are you not awed? Do you not feel that he is smarter than you, and therefore inherently better qualified for almost any mental pursuit?”
“No. I just believe that our gifts differ.”
“But he has achieved so much, and you so little.”
“I am smart enough for my own purposes, and I have no doubt but what there are ways in which I am smarter than he. If he could play music brilliantly, or perform a complex surgery, or carry pi to the thousandth decimal point; of such gifts, I would be in awe. But of the man himself, never.”
The best cure for awe is a close observance of other people, the goal being to appreciate them for what they are without dismissing them for what they are not.
I knew that the man in my dream would eventually ask to give me a blowjob. I was not aroused by this, but neither was I repulsed as I would have been had he wanted me to give him a blowjob. My decision then was a matter of whether the value he had given to me made it desirable that I repay him in such a manner, there being, I knew, no other payment in which he was half so interested. I thought back to another older man—a real man—I knew, a man whom I loved, and who killed himself before he was fifty. After his death, I thought about what a small thing it would have been for me to have said yes versus what a great thing it was to him that I had said no, and I wished I had said yes. I couldn’t imagine that such an unenthusiastic yes would have given him satisfaction, but, as I said, it seemed in retrospect a small thing to have offered.