The first was meeting a man who had just donated $10 million to a cause. He was a normal, unassuming human being. This is, of course, far more disorienting than if he'd had horns and were crassly capitalistic; it's harder to demonize the 1% when you realize they are human.
I met this man in passing, at an event which I attended courtesy of a family I've known for years. More precisely, I've known the mom for years, but had never met the dad. We were invited because Little Guy is friends with their younger son, who is some years older but belongs to the same scout troop. The dad, I should add, was tagged as Romney's top pick for a key position if Romney had won the last election. So there I was, sitting next to the dad -- who was also humane and gracious -- and then he had to go say hello to this other man, and when he came back he mentioned the news about the $10 million. Later the donor stopped by to chat for a while.
The chances that I will ever own $10 million, even cumulatively in my lifetime, are probably non-existent. Consequently, I felt no envy: I can't conceptualize dollar amounts that big. Similarly, because I was face to face with a real human being, what struck me wasn't "Hey, can you share some of that?" but the humanity of this man. He had, and he gave. It is going to take me a while to wrap my head around that.
* * * *
It's that season; for the next several weeks, Dancer will head to auditions for summer programs following her regular classes and rehearsals. On Saturday she began ballet at 10:30 a.m., and headed home at 7:30 p.m.
Yesterday she auditioned for a small program run by an iconic Balanchine ballerina. Because it was at a studio Dancer hasn't been to often, she asked me to come along. As we stood in line to check in I noticed the ballerina, who is now nearly 70, sitting quietly at the table, absorbed in looking at some papers. I'd read her autobiography several years ago, and my brain scrambled to take the facts that I knew about her and integrate them with the human being in front of me. The disconnect was huge. Sometimes, I think, the two don't mesh much at all; in order to have any real sense of the person-ness of a person, we have to temporarily discard the facts we know about him or her.
After the audition began I chatted with a woman whose daughters have gone to this particular summer program for years. Our kids were ballet classmates for a long time. The woman is one of the most generous human beings on the face of the earth. She is also one of the most toxic people I know. It's a complicated and challenging mix, and in certain ways I like her as much as (in other ways) I am wary of her. Talking with her is exhausting, since I have to weigh everything she says, gauging how much is true, how much is manipulative, how much she is digging for information and also, thankfully, how much is genuine interest in what I have to say.
Some people move in worlds where toxicity is the social standard. I don't. On the other hand, if I don't talk to people like this woman, how will she ever know that not everyone thinks like her? And how will I remember that not everyone thinks like me?
It's very easy for any of us to think the spectrum of human experience lies mostly within our own. But it's just not true.