Brilliant – n. Very bright. Glittering. Striking, distinctive. Distinguished by unusual mental keenness.
My big brother was the genius.
So said all the definitive tests, administered on or about 1959.
He scored in the range that set him apart, statistically speaking, from the bottom 99.8 %, in mathematical conceptualizing, computation, and application; language identification and application; spacial relations; and, whatever else deemed worthy of exaltation by our society at the time. I can’t remember. I wasn’t there. I was teething.
Somebody told him his exact test score, in fact, a teacher at the high school. In front of everybody else in the class, it was all kinds of drama. “Scanzillo! With an IQ of blahblah, you should be ……”
And, eventually, he did.
What was expected, of an IQ.
It was quite the affair.
He raised hamsters in the basement, and sold them, and set up a hand made sign out front to advertize them, rigging an alarm with string and a buzzer to prevent the sign from being stolen. Playing piano and trombone, he led a big band which he’d organized that rehearsed in the basement, next to the hamsters. Then, he went to college, for pre-med, and raised guinea pigs by the dozens, dissecting them in a make shift lab ( in the basement ) using mum’s baking pans and canning jars. He drove all the way to Seattle and took to the hills, selling dictionaries door to door to pay for college. After college, he taught high school chemistry, and then worked in a paper mill developing paper coatings out of dyes and other chemicals. He taught himself how to build whole houses, constructing every home he and his wife ever shared. Then, he went to Cleveland, and finished his PhD in chemistry, and became the local diagnostic lab director. With his second wife and children, he moved all across the country, directing labs, serving in court as expert witness, building and selling homes, and becoming a nationally recognized consultant. He led a highly regarded life.
Last week, he retired.
I inherited the basement. By default, it became my bedroom/in house apartment, after mum’s Uncle Ewart, for whom the space had been filled and decorated, chose to reject it on the basis of rising damp. Cluttered with acquired objects, my clothing, drawings and, mostly, my own personal chaos, after graduating from college myself I would sleep down there, all day, for weeks, immobilized by anonymity and a sense of pre-destined defeat.
In America, we are really good at celebrating ambition. We reward acquisition and accomplishment. We revere, and fear, those who have established power to limit our options.
And, we are also hasty to ascribe qualitative labels to those who excel, according to their predicted likelihood. We call them “brilliant”. And, the results of their efforts we call “phenomenal”, as if we are continually surprised that a human can do anything at all.
Except that there are seven billion of us, strong. Swarming. Churning. Heaving, and careening around the planet. And, these brilliant phenomenals hover over our heads, like pressure systems teasing the barometer, testing the mettle of all humanity, setting the bar and then swiping it away just as we extend our reach.
Is it any wonder, then, that popular culture is born. And, then marketed. And promoted. And, celebrated.
A weird sort of backlash, to appease the masses? A grande comfort zone for the mediocre?
Whole tribes, doing what is popular. Until a majority of humans in America no longer care about producing anything without duplication, let alone effort. An entire people, out of touch with their own capacity for birthing beauty or truth.
This past week, I had a life changing experience. I learned to meditate. Actually, the sectarian brethren had exposed me to such practice from shortly after birth, but never as focused or directed activity. From childhood, I’d only known that meditation was reserved for thoughts of Christ, carrying his cross and then hanging from it.
But, this meditation put me in touch with all that I saw within me – thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perceptions….propensities.
And, this led to the inevitable confrontation with self.
Who was I, really, and of what was I made? What was the full range of my capacities, and how did I regard my potential role in the scheme of life?
And, I was not alone. Seated around me were several, mostly women, from all parts of north America and beyond. And, among us, we shared one thing: a love for music.
Some of us were already regarded by others as “accomplished musicians.” Others of us were awaiting such recognition, or not seeking any. But, we all shared this: we were all about to become wholly ignited by our own, natural illumination.
By the time we closed our week together, most of us were born anew. There was no altar call, no postlude, no public declaration of intent. Our birth took place in the most profound silence, because the shells holding us in were so thin and unimportant that they merely fell away as we emerged.
The light, however, was all encompassing. No angels, no demons. No hamsters, or dictionaries. No highest scores, or notions of superiority. Just humans, with hearts, baring and then carrying souls, and presenting spirits ready to burst forth with singular and magnificent brilliance.
*This piece dedicated to Madeline Bruser, “The Art of Practicing”, and inspired by our Mary Duncan.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 8/2/15 All rights reserved. Sharing permitted, upon request, and with kind and appropriate reference to the author. Thank you.