Where This Meets That
There’s a great line in the 1994 film Forrest Gump where Forrest’s mother is trying to help her son to cope after he’s just received special corrective leg braces to straighten his spine. She tells him, “If God intended everybody to be the same, he’d have given everyone braces on their legs.” In one stroke, she softens the awkwardness of his situation by spinning his own non-conformity as a shortcoming of the rest of the world instead.
I have my own funny assortment of quirks that stem from Tourette syndrome. My symptoms started later than the standard textbook case of the disorder, beginning in my early 20’s with a strange nasal tic similar to a snort. It is an awkward trait that has provided an interesting conversation piece for several inquiring minds over the years. It ebbs and flows in intensity, sometimes lying dormant for weeks or even months and other times flaring up so bad as to make eating a meal a frustrating process.
During the bad times, there’s really no denying it. I’ve tried ineffective medications and sheer will power but have stopped short of exploring neurological or potential surgical options, primarily because it is a non-threatening nuisance, and I have other things I’d rather be doing.
Since its onset, my condition has occasionally brought new tics into the mix, and it’s been my experience that tics tend to stick. My latest one started up about a year ago and involves an inability to achieve lasting comfort in how my shirts rest on my left shoulder. There is no pain, just an ongoing inability to get comfortable, which leaves me perpetually twitching my shoulder around. I call it my “invisible dog” because, during the worst moments, it’s bound to make me look like I have an unruly, invisible little dog on a leash to my left.
Upon hearing my “pet name” for my shoulder tic, one person expressed admiration for my ability to find humor in it. I responded half-joking that, if you can’t laugh at yourself then it hurts more when others do, and so I do. I recall one time when I had a stuffy nose that added a funny little whistle burst to my nasal tic. My wife and I got such a big kick out of it, and I declared it my “snorty whistler” tic. Among my original “snort”, its doppelgänger the “snorty whistler”, and my “invisible dog” are other less obvious tics, but sometimes I’ll do something just a little off-base and joke to my wife that it’s a new tic. Of course, when a new real one sets in, and I recognize the potentially degenerative nature of my condition, I do wonder where it all ends. Will I be 80 years old jerking my cane around like it’s a hose turned on full blast? Will my walk appear as though I’m dancing barefoot on burning coals? And if so, will I still have fun with it?
Last December, I completed my MBA. I recall one particular study session early on in the program when I noticed a number of other participants also exhibiting subtle tics of their own. I was surprised and more than a little pleased by it; misery loves company, as the saying goes. Importantly, it reminded me that everyone has their own little quirks that they can’t help; it’s part of our fabric as individuals.
And yet those quirks drive massive economies. I’m always amazed at the number of advertisements for optional, some perhaps even fraudulent, pharmaceuticals that hits me in the limited TV and radio time I enjoy. Many times, as I listen to an advertisement, I find myself thinking, “Hey, I have that, but I never realized it was a . . . problem?” And compared to the potential side effects (i.e. bloody stool, amnesia, death, etc.) of the advertised treatment, I’m still not so sure I’d consider it a problem.
When I hear about steady rises in cases of disorders like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea (the latter of which I incidentally have been diagnosed with and, yes, I sleep with a mask on my face that keeps me from snoring – presumably the better option than my wife putting a pillow over my face), I can’t help but think about Listerine. Did you know who created the problem of bad breath? Why, Listerine! In the late 19th Century, Listerine was marketed for a number of pharmaceutical uses, but it only hit the big time when re-targeted to treat a faux medical condition called “chronic halitosis” – ahem, bad breath. Suddenly everyone had bad breath, except those who used Listerine.
So, from bad breath to small breasts to snorty whistlers to shaky legs, what we have is a world full of flaws unworthy to live with. Or, just maybe, a world full of quirks that make us us. C.S. Lewis suggests that God has his own name for each of us, unique from every other name in Creation. If our uniqueness among Creation is the total sum of our parts, then perhaps there is something valuable lurking behind our quirks and idiosyncrasies, something to celebrate instead of to suppress.