During my lifetime, I have benefited from having friends whom I met in all sorts of ways, from school to work to many other venues; and from having friends who have ranged from the conventional and successful to unconventional individuals who have, in various ways, broadened my outlook and knowledge of people and life, and, also, have often introduced me to ideas and various things that I would never have otherwise encountered.
B_______ was one of my unconventional friends. (I guess practically everyone has a few.) We met in my workplace, although we did not actually have the same employer. He was a sort of subcontractor.
B_______ was older than me by over a decade. Yet age never mattered. We clicked from the get go.
B_______ did not live the conventional life of a middle class striver, although he had been raised, apparently, in a conventional middle class home by WASP parents. I believe his father was a bookkeeper or accountant, or some such job, and worked for several years for a municipal agency. His grandfather was a Yale graduate, and his family was a prominent one.
To give an idea of how he defied convention — to what extent (and here, I should say, that he was never a rebel; he was unconventional in lifestyle and thoughts, but was not the kind of person who acted outwardly defiant; furthermore, he was not a radical or political person) — an amusing story might be apropos. He told me (he had come to young adulthood in the 1950’s) that an aunt of his said to him: “I know what you are. You’re a beatnik!”
B______ didn’t mind this remark. He told me, “I am a beatnik.” He also used to say to me, “I live in a slum and I like it.” At that time (which was the time when I first met him), he was a city dweller.
When one thinks of a beatnik, one thinks of a guy with a beard who is perhaps given to making comments to discomfit unhip squares. B_______ wasn’t at all what one would think of as the Jack Kerouac type. He wasn’t a good dresser (he got his clothes at thrift shops), but he was clean cut and in no way dressed, talked, or acted in such a way as to call attention to himself. He was extremely courteous and was well spoken.
B_______ absolutely did not believe in medicine or doctors. He had no bank account. He was very into New Age stuff. He had several sessions (called readings) with a psychic. She told B______ about his prior lives, going back to the Middle Ages (he had been a monk, she said). He believed this absolutely.
Despite all the things that I found interesting about my unconventional friend, and despite my welcoming and appreciating his friendship, I came to realize over time that he had his limitations. (Don’t we all?)
He was an only child. I would guess that he didn’t have much contact with other kids. He rarely talked about his upbringing or parents.
I was impressed (perhaps too much) by B_______’s open, inquisitive mind. Everything was intuition. When I was younger, his rambling thoughts intrigued me. But he was intellectually lazy.
He would tell me, for example, that according to something he had read, you could learn things from a book by putting the book under your pillow and sleeping on it. He believed this.
He preferred to live in an abstract, theoretical realm. He did not like to be tied or nailed down by facts.
If you were in a discussion with him, and wanted to get analytical, or, say, had contradictory evidence, he wasn’t interested in hearing it. He had an interesting mind, in many respects, totally unconventional, yet, as I say, interesting. But once he formed an opinion, there was no way you could change his mind or thinking, no matter how much evidence or what counterarguments you might use. He wasn’t listening.
One little example. B_______ never studied foreign languages. He did not have the initiative or patience for that type of endeavor. (He attended college briefly but dropped out.) Once I was telling him how I had grown to love an oratorio by Berlioz, L’enfance du Christ. He was interested. (If you introduced a topic likely to appeal to B_______, he could be very interested. But if not, he would be bored and make no effort.) We discussed it a bit and I told him the title in English meant “the childhood of Christ.”
Whenever B_______, who not well educated by conventional standards (although he went to an excellent prep school; he was a college dropout) , got a shred of information, he was proud of it. He didn’t know any foreign languages, but he was familiar with the film Les enfants terribles (1950, based on Cocteau’s novel). So B_______ knew the word enfants, and that enfants meant children.
Well, enfants and enfance are pronounced the same. So, when I said “l’enfance du Christ,” B______ suggested that the title of the film might mean “the children of Christ.” No, I explained, that was not the case. He seemed disappointed, skeptical, and a tad annoyed. I don’t think he quite believed me.
He found his parents to be way too strict and developed a habit of stubborn non-compliance. He was a Peter Pan.
His attitude towards women was a mystery to me. He could get along with women such as friends’ girlfriends or spouses or women that he would encounter in an intellectual or professional context, but he seemed to completely avoid intimate relationships and appeared to be completely against letting it happen.
Despite his original mind, there were some places he just wouldn’t go in discussion. He had no use for psychological or psychiatric stuff.
One shouldn’t make snap judgments or draw superficial conclusions about people. But I have thought about B_______ over the years as I have matured; have gained more life experience and practical wisdom; and, most importantly, have assumed adult responsibilities.
My wife has given me critical insights about B_______. I asked how she would explain certain things about him. She said he was a perennial boy who never grew up in most respects. He was afraid of COMMITMENT, of committing himself to certain obligations and to adult relationships. This latter realization was my own. I have so thought for a long time. He has avoided adult responsibilities and marriage and children.
I have concluded that what B_______ fears is DEATH. Loss. Without becoming committed, one has less to lose.
I did not realize this until I got married and had children. That changes everything. Because now you don’t just have your own death to fear, you are terrified at the thought of losing those dear to you, which is in a sense worse than losing one’s own life.
Afraid of commitment. Because there would be something to lose.
Afraid of mortality, the very thought of it.
— Roger W. Smith