Saturday, February 25, 2006

Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion

I have recently been attending a conference sponsored by Boston College on the philosophical work of John Paul II, which has just concluded. As is typical, the events of the conference consisted mostly in distinguished academics presenting papers and fielding questions. It was the audience which was atypical. There were many non-Catholics, people without any real connection to the academic world such as myself, very young students down to high school in a couple of cases, and quite a few retirees. Why were such an odd variety of people crashing a meeting which would otherwise be a cozy discourse of professional philosophers?

That is probably a little too difficult to answer directly, so let me tell a story of Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion instead. R&M was a movie comedy made a number of years ago about two California women who will shortly attend their 10th high school reunion. The protagonists are not satisfied with their station in life so they have to crash-build false personas that will give them the proper social status. Of course, this plan untimately fails. But this is important, because only when it fails can Romy and Michelle (and by extension us as well) see and appreciate the real depth of the people they used to see every day, friends or otherwise. They are so caught up in their own machinations that it comes as a quite a shock when they meet their high school colleagues ten years later and the real people they see are not at all the same as the projection of their memories.

The point being, that the dork you knew in high school who is now the CEO of IBM or whatever is the same person. And if you couldn't see that possibility for him back in high school, it wasn't because of your lack of perception. In fact, even though it seems counterintuitive, the more accurate your perception was, the worse your appreciation for this person is likely to be. This late-blooming high school colleague just didn't show the parts of himself which constituted the personality or aptitude for success, so you couldn't have seen it. But they were there the whole time.

Too often, the people in our lives seem to be like the toys under the tree on Christmas morning. They are intruiging for a short time, but then we figure them out well enough, and they become boring. This is obviously a poor foundation for social relations, but it's also just false in reality as well. To summarize the work of Karol Wotyla (ie, JPII) and others, the human persion is a metaphysical diamond, he always has a new angle to show you that you haven't seen before. And this is true no matter what you already know about that person or how long you have known him.

If you could walk down the street and every person you see could engage you in new and wonderful ways that you were not aware of or didn't appreciate, life would likely be different and much better. Among other things, JPII could meaningfully address this yearning for engagement that we all share. It is one reason why he was such a compelling figure in life, as well as in death.

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