The Good Stuff
If you've seen the movie “Good Will Hunting,” then you know about the farting scene. It's the scene in which Robin Williams’ character is telling Matt Damon's character about his late, beloved wife. He doesn’t talk about her accomplishments; instead, he remembers her quirks. She farted in her sleep, he says, and once she farted so loudly that she woke herself up. The two men can't stop laughing at the thought.
I had that scene playing in my mind as I sat down to write this morning. For some reason, I wasn't thinking about my brother Willie's accomplishments (though I celebrate them) or his gift for music (though I'm so proud of his talent). Instead, I was thinking about the strange, funny moments that only our family knows about. I was thinking about Willie's wonderful, individual quirks.
I was thinking about how Willie used to ski, before he mastered the art of turning. When we were younger, our parents would take us skiing each winter. Willie would ride on the chairlift, disembark, and then he would fly. Pointing his skis parallel, he'd simply accelerate, zooming down the trail until he came (or tumbled) to a stop at the entrance to the ski lodge. He was surprisingly good at this unconventional method. Unlike me, he wasn't terrified of picking up so much speed. Sometimes I'd try to ski alongside him, both of us shooting like bullets down the mountain. I only made it the whole way a few times, but Willie made it every time.
I was thinking about how, on those same ski trips, we'd take our sore, tired bodies out to restaurants for supper. Even though Willie always ordered familiar dishes—spaghetti, fries, hamburgers—the food's presentation would be different from what he knew and recognized.
Once, when Willie's order of chicken fingers arrived at our table, he didn't eat, but simply stared down at them. Willie loved having chicken nuggets at home, yet we all noticed he wasn't eating his food. Puzzled, my parents encouraged him to explain why. His face furrowed in concentration; I could see the mental wheels turning. How to explain this sudden aversion to his supper? Finally, he spoke up. In a plaintive tone, he said, “I'm sorry, bananas!”
We burst out laughing, as the problem became clear in an instant. The chicken fingers were longer and thinner than the chicken nuggets Willie was used to, and as such, he just didn't know how to place them in his mind. To him, the chicken fingers looked like … well, breaded and fried bananas.
Another time, Willie ordered spaghetti and meatballs, a perennial favorite. But when his plate came, he once again stared down at it without eating. When prompted to explain, he said, with a tinge of horror in his voice, “It's still growing!” That's right: The unfamiliar sight of parsley sprinkled over the meatballs made it look like they'd sprung up from the earth, and Willie was dismayed at the prospect of ingesting them!
When I miss my brother, these are the small stories that make me smile. I miss his sense of humor, because it helps me to have a greater openness, a sense that life isn't always what it seems. True, learning to look at the world through Willie's lens of perception can be a challenge, but it can also be a delight. I haven't always appreciated that as much as I do now. I used to long for a “normal” family. Yet even then, there was a deep-down part of me that knew: Normal wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. And it's the lessons learned in laughter that stay with me now.
Thus, when Robin Williams' character says:
“... that's [what] I remember: wonderful stuff, you know? Little things like that. Those are the things I miss the most. The little idiosyncrasies that only I know about. ... People call these things imperfections, but they’re not. Ah, that's the good stuff.”
I can't help but agree wholeheartedly. That's the good stuff. And, lucky for me it's still growing.