Anna: Dad, how come the hair on your chest is gray, but the hair on your head is brown?
Earl: They gave me a choice.
No they didn’t. It’s just what it is. I’m an old man with a head covered with (mostly) brown hair. I’ve been asked about this a surprising number of times. Invariably by men. Invariably in an unfriendly tone.
“Do you color your hair?” they insinuatingly inquire, hoping because they’re younger than me and they’re already gray that my answer will be, “I do. Every twenty minutes.”
I take no credit for my post-maturely brown hair. It’s nothing I had anything to do with. The thing is, in this culture, having not gray hair when people the same age (and younger) generally do have gray hair provides a certain type of distinction. We live in a youth-worshipping environment that views aging as a disease. Many men (and women) spend large sums of money for hair that looks the way mine happens to look naturally.
My good fortune in the hair department is not really all that helpful. I’m still seen as too old to work in television. And I don’t think I’m fooling God.
“Brown hair. Too young to kill.”
It is my apparently minority opinion that an older person trying to look younger always looks like an older person trying to look younger. There’s always a “giveaway.” You have youthful looking hair but a neck that hangs down to your belt. Of course, this negative perspective comes from a guy whose hair forgot to turn gray. I doubt if I’d dye it anyway. I’d be afraid it would rain, and some telltale brown stuff would come running down my forehead.
I’m using “hair” as a starting point. The real issue is the absurdity of people receiving (or taking) credit for things they had absolutely nothing to do with. They said about George Bush, the Dad:
“George woke up on third base, and thought that he’d hit a triple.”
That’s one part of it – winning the “family” lottery. I never cared for the children of the rich, and not because they had better stuff than me, though that didn’t help. Rich people’s children seem to walk around with this swaggering sense of entitlement (though it could just be good posture from riding lessons). These guys act like they actually accomplished something, when what totally made them was being born into a family that happened to have money. It’s not like the kids had a say in the matter.
“You want to be born to a rich family or a poor family?”
That never happened. And even if it did, you shouldn’t get credit for the obvious answer. I mean, who’d go the other way?
“I’ll take ‘poor’.”
“Are you crazy?”
“I don’t know. I kinda like to scuffle.”
There’s no question, there’s no answer. You get what you get. And whatever it is has nothing to do with you.
A bigger issue. Because it takes in a larger group of people.
Being an American.
I’m not referring to immigrants here. Those people (including me) made a choice; the majority of Americans – I think they’re still the majority – didn’t. Their ancestors may have, but not them. Ignoring their accidentally good fortune, Americans seem puffed with a sense of superiority, dismissing the fact that they could very easily have been born somewhere else.
I don’t know how “being born” works. I don’t know if you line up and you get the next country on the list.
“You can’t pass.”
And off you go. It may work that way, it may not. But the result is the same as if it did. You go where you go. Again, you have no say in the matter. Taking credit for your location of birth makes no more sense than taking credit for having been born into a rich family or having brown hair after you’re supposed to anymore.
These things have nothing
Then there’s the big one.
“You see these body parts? I grew them myself.”
No you didn’t.
A man of remarkable height:
“I willed myself tall.”
I don’t think you did.
A really smart person:
“I’m a brain!”
No, you were given a brain. It just happens to be a good one.”
I’ve written about this before. (“Nature and That’s It” – Feb. 18, 2009.) In my view, the overwhelming majority of our attributes (I actually said all our attributes, but my smart former sociology professor friend, Shelly, guffawed at me derisively), the attributes that define who we were wired into our programming before we were born. There’s no
“She taught herself to have an even temperament.”
“Every time she got upset, she said, “That’s not how I’d like to be.”
It’s not our call. That stuff was decided before we got there.
There are so many things about us that are entirely out of our control. Yet we still take what, to me, is an odd and unjustified pride, in who we are. A woman, so spectacularly put together she makes otherwise reasonable men drive into a tree. As she calls for the paramedics, there’s a good chance she’s thinking,
“I’m really hot!”
You didn’t do anything!
“What are you mean? I made an otherwise reasonable man drive into a tree!”
Your body did that. You just happened to be occupying it at the time.
In the future, I want to go more deeply into what it means to be us. Who exactly is this “me” I keep talking about, and am so very, very proud of? I’m thinking that when you subtract the stuff we happen to be the passive recipients of – our family relationship, our country of origin, our genetic makeup, for starters – there may not actually be a whole lot of “me” left.