Monday, August 15, 2005

don't forget the ones who foot the bill

Some people hate stupidity. Personally, I am not a fan of it, but I usually have a certain tolerance for it, if it is accompanied by some degree of humility or self-effacing good humor. As a very MBA-savvy coworker has explained to me, "I can deal with someone who is incompetent and modest, or competent and arrogant, but there is no place for someone who is both incompetent and arrogant." Speaking of MBAs, and business jargon- it induces the gag reflex in my science-educated brain. In my office are various books with interchangeable titles like Getting to Yes and Getting Past No and Good to Great. I have no doubt that these books have their merits, but I take one look at them, and blech, the acid reflux begins. So, this synopsis regarding successful business principles made me grin from ear to ear. If you are into the MBA-speak, you'll probably take issue with the essay. Then again, if you're into the MBA-speak, the chances are rather slim that you're reading this blog.

But to get back to the point, which is all about what I really hate (nice way to start a week, don't you think?)-- what I really cannot withstand, what presses my buttons faster than anything else, what causes my patience to disintegrate like a soap bubble bursting -- the universal, but particularly unavoidable if you have two X chromosomes, drama. I know that, at times, I can probably get all maudlin and dramatic in this blog, but I condone drama in written form. Fine, have a nervous breakdown on paper for all I care. Actually, I encourage you to, because it makes for a fascinating read more often than not (though I'm certainly not hoping any of you fall apart for my voyeuristic benefit). But dramatic behavior in day-to-day living is unacceptable. I am neither fifteen nor a character in a soap opera or a WB show. May the NFL season save me from insanity!

The drama that is not worth even detailing arrived at an unfortunate hour. It was an hour of great peace and calm. I went to Fort Funston on Saturday, and walked on the beach with a friend for at least two hours. It is easy to forget, in San Francisco, how close the ocean looms, how much it has to offer. Clouds kept the sun from appearing, and a gentle breeze worked against us as we trudged in the sand. Walking that way, with shoes half in the earth, half out, feels particularly deliberate. Each step requires a little more attention; no matter how fast the pace, not much distance can be covered. And the sound of the waves crashing is like the ocean's metronome, marking time, marking the forward movement of all things. I have heard it said that looking out on the ocean can assert your insignificance. It is true, but looking out on the ocean also makes your insignificance feel okay. Your insignificance fits into the natural order of things as the footprints you leave in the sand are quickly wiped clean by the incoming tide. Nature's Etch-a-sketch, if you will.

What I always find moving, and what I ultimately found to be the best drama-antidote, is the act of embracing insignificance and being extraordinary anyway. Just because we are all insignificant, I do not hold to the notion that we are all free of responsibility to make something of ourselves. When I think of Jan T. Vilcek, I am speechless. When I think of celebrities, this is the sort of person that appears in my mind's eye. The man hid from Nazis, fled communist Czechoslovakia- chapter one, which should be enough of an accomplishment in and of itself. Then he did breakthrough research at NYU that gave him intellectual property rights to Remicade, a billion dollar drug that is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions- chapter two. Then his wife fell seriously ill- chapter three. These facts alone should make for a good, inspiring story. But here is the proverbial icing: Jan T. Vilcek announced, on Friday, his intention to donate nearly all of his fortune to the NYU medical school, an amount that will total over $105 million. You can cite that he is 72 years old, that he has no children, and whatever else you would like- it's still an unbelievable act of generosity. A large chunk of the money will go to basic research funding, which is what engaged Vilcek into discovering what would eventually become Remicade.

Now, that is the kind of drama I can stomach.

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