Magical Mind Mentors
I was daydreaming about with whom, among Americans, I would like to spend a day, just talking. If I had to choose two -- three-way conversations stay fresher and flow better -- who would I choose?
After thinking long and hard about my own penchant for gloominess and love of stories, as well as a slightly oblique sense of humor, I chose Abraham Lincoln and Robin Williams. Let me explain why.
Why Abraham Lincoln?
"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"
"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."
In my heart of hearts, I truly would love to have known the man from whom such wonderful, powerful, and succinct phrases flowed. His mind was not hampered by the iron bands which bound the minds of those educated by the leading institutions of the day, but grew free and untamed. He spoke the common man's language with the perspective of one whose voracious appetite for learning was never sated.
Lincoln knew adversity and weathered failures. He had a singular capacity for cutting through the erudite fog of seasoned purveyors of horse hockey with tightly focused homespun wit and just a touch of wisdom. He understood the intrinsic value of honesty: "No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar."
I am not certain what I would ask him, as Lincoln's quotes and writings sound self-contained and complete; he leaves nothing more to say, but everything more to do. His level of equanimity seems unrivaled. However, given that opportunity, I suppose I would tell him a bit about my own life and ask him to share his own experiences that might parallel them or offer insight. Mostly, I would want to listen because…
Lincoln was a storyteller.
Why Robin Williams?
I was fascinated by Robin Williams from the first time I saw him perform on television. Without a doubt he had what must have been the fastest mind on the planet. At one time, Jonathan Winters held that spot for me, but Williams was even faster. He could be frenetic and laser focused.
James Lipton's interview with Williams on Inside the Actor's Studio, was a tour de force -- Williams at his best. Lipton said: "His gift was the most mysterious of all gifts, it was genius. Genius is inexplicable. … You can't teach genius."
I would have loved to just talk with him about life. He was from Detroit, as am I and there might be some shared experiences to help us relate. The zaniness was not consistent, as he remarked several times in interviews -- the energy level was simply too high to maintain. And he wasn't afraid to talk about death. He said, "Death is nature's way of saying, 'Your table is ready.'" I would want to listen because…
Williams was a storyteller.
As my fantasy ended, it dawned on me that the next generations of humanity will also be searching for storytellers, but will be hampered by the noise of the Internet and social media. How will young minds, overstimulated by constant input from such a diverse selection of competing sources ever develop the capacity to sort, to select, and to synthesize what is important and meaningful for themselves? Will they be as fast as Robin Williams? Will they be as grounded and honest as Abraham Lincoln?
Both men coped with tragedies. Both men pushed themselves beyond normal physical limits. Both men looked long and hard into the abyss. Both men achieved extreme fame and made their contemporaries think about the human condition. Both men paid with their lives, though in vastly different ways. Perhaps they might have offered some hope, some perspective on how to swim in the ocean of noise.
I would have liked that.