Sunday, June 14, 2009

Uncommon Sense

One learns to listen to the meaning of language, when one has been instructed in language endlessly. Does it conduct the owner of education, imagination and a sense of humor? Does it demand scientific scrutiny and historical relevance? As a child I learned these things early, to listen to the speech of others, for the family was already in the fold. My mother might correct my usage all her life, but my language was a priori at least equal to if not superior to that of all others outside the family, in her view—and it was her view which held the family standard. She was not particularly scientific in method, if wholly so in attitude, and so sometimes I saw her logic as lacking, for I was wholly scientific both in method and attitude. It is not conducive to common sense, such an upbringing, in such a family.

One learns very early to admire the humorous, the “wit” which is the family humor, the understatement, the ironic. And yet my mother screamed herself with laughter into sanity all her life. She depended on humor, the ability to see the funny and absurd and the ridiculous to see her through the worst of circumstances. Common sense does not enter in; common sense might have dictated a melt-down. But my mother's uncommon sense was well developed toward an always available window of opportunity framed by laughter. It relieved her and with it she rose above an abusive, corrosive undependable outer world of trouble. She rose newly strengthened by it, for rarely was it not followed by solid plans of self-intervention and, ultimately, victory over all foes, these being, mainly, people with no imagination, whose sense and knowledge were merely conventional. Imagination itself is not conducive to common sense and when common sense becomes merely conventional, then it becomes the foe. Uncommon sense is much more interesting, for one, than common sense. It is also never in danger of becoming merely conventional.

My grandfather was of that tribe which has always lived among men admired by all the other tribes, currently coined a “whisperer.” My mother thought that birds and cats and all sorts of animals “knew”
things. Of course this was not scientifically viable, and I snickered at her. Yet she had a father who, in spite of being an eminent scientist, talked to animals; and I myself admit to having had a grounded robin chick hop right into my lap once. Common sense tells you a dog knows what you're thinking. Uncommon sense tells you you know what the dog is thinking. We have, as a family, the latter kind.

A well-educated person reveals himself in language--the purpose he puts it to, not just the way it is put. My mother revealed to me a remarkable compassion for others when she over-looked the ill-constructed syntax of a given respect-deserving outsider and focused on his sense of humor and his good common sense. Those with uncommon sense always look up to and respect those with common sense, and my mother's uncommon sense was superior. She had a keen eye to the essential human being beneath the trappings of style, even such verbal accouterments as those which had been garnered in a language-poor upbringing. My mother could forgive, and willingly did so consistently, poor language usage in the mouth of a person who had sterling integrity, fierce protectiveness, loyalty and—always—common sense. She loved carpenters. I guess she found they exuded common sense, and she found they shared the same sense of humor, uncommon as it was.

Common sense would have told her she and carpenters weren't likely to find the same things funny. But uncommon sense, of which our family has plenty, she had in spades. I thought I was the only one with common sense—me and Grandma Ruggli, my grandfather's mother-in-law. Now she had common sense. You could, and can, see it in her wrinkles. I can see, using my magic mirror (rendered magic by its frequent disuse) that I am slowly turning into my great grandmother, wrinkles and all. But the common sense? I somehow doubt it will come in time for it to cause my bodily demise to have no meaning. Such thoughts invariably render me melancholy; but it passes. Uncommon sense, of which I have much, tells me that in a hundred years I will have a descendant turning into me.

The use of uncommon sense is that one keeps in touch with one's remote ancestors and one's remote descendants. Common sense says that it's all over when it's all over. Common sense says dust to dust. Uncommon sense, such as my family believes in, says death is only bodily, the family lives forever, and with it the stories and language which feature it forever. The family is uncommonly featured in the kind of sense which makes sense to my family, and my family only. Not quite. We're not that exclusive. Not when it comes to marriage.

We're always noticing others—people who exude a certain humorous imaginative approach to life and looping them in matrimonially. Uncommon sense must be perpetuated. Uncommon sense says you marry someone you love. Common sense dictates you fall in love with someone who understands where you're coming from, family wise. (Does he talk to the animals? Is he not lazy? Hard-working? Is he thoughtful of others? NOT conventional, I hope—the worst is to be conventional in my family.) Most importantly, is he prepared to go script-less into the conversation of the night? (Does he speak well? Is he educated?) Why be in love with somebody else? Makes sense. But which kind?

Uncommon sense says you marry the person you fall in love with. With any luck, you might fall in love with someone your family would approve of, that being someone who, though lacking in common sense, is still imaginative and creative. Good luck thus becomes an indispensable component of one's own destiny package. To someone without common sense, luck redeems all; indeed is all that's left for hope after uncommon wisdom speaks. Someone with common sense doesn't need luck (he has sense).

When it comes to discovering lovers of an ilk, uncommon sense is always sending members of our family messages during the courting process. I have a daughter who calls the messenger of her own uncommon sense her “Stupid Friend.” Stupid is a good way of describing uncommon sense. Common sense would make you never stupid, ever.

Common sense is much to be wanted, for it's the fortress of the ages, the sign of common wisdom. Uncommon wisdom has to be family grown. I strive ever toward the former, having been given so much of the latter.

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