Monday, November 22, 2004

On hat sizes and being satisfied

A few days ago, I got on the trolley on my way to work, and sat down next to Susan. Susan is an Asian American woman of about forty years old, who also happens to be mentally disabled. I've gotten to know Susan riding the train; I enjoy talking to her. She catches the trolley to work every day, where she puts labels on envelopes and does other light clerical tasks.

Susan has an intense gaze. In our culture, we don't really allow people's eyes to remain on someone's face for more than a few seconds at a time; it's considered rude, impertinent, forward. But Susan looks at each person long and hard, sometimes for a full two minutes, as if trying to read something written there, trying to decipher every detail of their face.

It can be a little unnerving.

After I sat down, Susan studied me for a while in her usual intense way, and then said, "You have a big head!"

Some people on the tram snickered. One person blurted out, "Big HAIR, she meant you have big hair" (I don't really, though it is a little long right now). But Susan insisted, "No, a big head. You have a big head."

I told Susan she was right, I do have a big head. And its true (in more ways than one). Whenever I buy a hat, I always have to find the biggest head size, at least a 7 1/2. More on that in a minute.

Susan then said, "Me, I have a small head. I'd like to have a big head like you." A short, awkward silence ensued. One nearby passenger, in a lame attempt at a joke, blurted out, "Maybe she wants to trade heads with you right here on the train." But Susan shook her head vehemently. "No. No. You can't be somebody else. You have to be yourself."

I said to Susan, "But wouldn't it be nice, every now and then, to be somebody else just for a little while?" Maybe I was thinking about how children love make believe, dress up, pretending to be someone else. Maybe I was thinking about how I sometimes wish I could be someone else: more heroic, more intriguing, more sagacious. The plus self. The venti personality.

But Susan looked at me and said, "No. You have to be satisfied with who you are."

I thought about Susan's words all the way to work, and throughout the rest of the day. When I was born, my head was so large the doctors feared I might be hydrocephalic. They told my parents I might grow up to be mentally disabled. What separates me from Susan is, well, not very much at all. A segment of DNA coding less than a billionth of an inch long. The will of God. You figure it out.

You were absolutely right, Susan. Absolutely right.

We have to satified with who we are.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

I like this story.

How do you feel when she stares at you?