On Being Short
It was only years later that I came to understand that Bonaparte and I shared a similar difficulty as a result of our stature. Then, early in my life, I had very little idea of what went into such problems.. I first remember discovering something about how being shorter than my peers might prove to be of some consequence at the outset of my academic life, which, in those days, began at age five in Kindergarten.
Here is how I was introduced to the matter: Several of us were playing indoors in the room where we were warehoused. There was something like a fireplace in the room, although it had never been used, so it was simply a brick opening in the side of the room. It was perhaps three feet deep and its roof sloped down from the front to the rear. Since our plan had been to hide together, my two chums suggested that I, being the shortest, should enter first since the rear was where the lowest part of the roof was and I would be most able to accommodate the reduced space. I could not think why this was not entirely sensible and entered first quite willingly and with a bit of the excitement which always attached itself in those days to anything new and perhaps slightly against propriety. The two of them squeezed themselves in after me, causing me to be pinned and cut off, blocked into the small space. Unexpectedly, I felt forgotten. The posse we had been moments earlier had vanished. I wanted to leave, but without allowing anyone to know it was my uneasiness at being hemmed in. I still wanted to be a part of the posse and felt worried that an overly anxious expression of that uneasiness might disqualify me from membership. Somehow the vividness of these thoughts seems as clear to me today as it did 63 years ago. It must be because the theme of separation, of being cut off, has never quite been purged from my sense of myself in the world.
I don’t remember any external event of any sort associated with this moment. Bored I imagine after a minute or two, we all exited and flowed back into the hubbub of the classroom. The event was silent and invisible save to me and this very fact, that I alone knew of it of my disquiet, accentuated its significance. Secrets separate us, and that day I acquired a secret, and the existence of the secret was itself secret; a box within a box. You could be alone in the midst of other people, perhaps anywhere or at any time. There seemed nothing to tell anyone. What would I tell? Who would be able to make any sense of this feeling that had so suddenly penetrated me? They would surely dismiss it as trivial, but I knew it was not. Private matters create space between you and the world, and in those days especially, I did not want space that opened a fissure between me and the world. I think I still hoped the world would be like an amniotic sac that stretched but never tore. That afternoon, though, it had seemed to tear. Perhaps this tear was the tarp pulled over other tears even I could not see at the time.
Bonaparte, with whom I am claiming no other affiliation or similarity, apparently dealt with this sensation by trying to become the most dominant man on earth, or so the lure I’ve absorbed suggests. This was far too excessive; a solution so unlikely it never occurred to me. In fact, I think I wandered down a far more common road for most of my unremarkable childhood. I struggled not for the top of the heap, but simply to be in the heap. I remember another incident, one so small as to seem like a grain of sand in the dunes of experience, but also one that somehow remained prominent enough in my mind as to be easily retrievable still. In this memory, I was playing outside with perhaps five or six other boys from the neighborhood, racing about here and there, when I went into someone’s house for a bathroom break. When I came back outside, the herd had moved on. I felt shocked and apprehensive at having been left. They had not been distracted by the excitements of the game; they had left me! I had been cast aside, discarded and forgotten. The last boy picked for the game, the unchosen girl at the dance, the homeless man, the lepers were now my company; though the forlorn never think they have company. Isolation, especially for a child, especially perhaps for me, cut to the bone of worry. Had I been cast out? Was I too short for the games? World conquest did not occur to me that afternoon either. Not by a very long shot.
It was perhaps four years later, probably when I was eleven that this theme poked with its jagged persistence back into my awareness. In order to learn to become a proper young man of the times, my parents enrolled me in an evening class to learn to dance. Like all parents energetically preparing their child for the world their they foresaw, my parents sought to prepare me for their own coming of age, having very little idea of the world I would have to inhabit. I suppose every generation does much the same thing. Parents, assured that they have finally learned something about how to manage the world they live in, try to teach their children about that world. But the contemporary world, the one we children were moving into has moved on and our parents’ lessons seem embarrassingly antiquated. There seems something nostalgic, and sorrowful that my father was not going to teach me the right way to hunt or fish and thus pass along his secrets of surviving in the world. My world would turn out to be so unfamiliar, so remote from the one he had tried to master, that his own wisdom only opened a gulf between us. This world, the one I was growing up into, so differed from his that what he hoped to teach me felt foolish to me, almost a wound between us. So the dance class was better suited to a boy of the twenties or thirties than a boy who would only dance voluntarily some six years later, and then in a way entirely unrecognizable to my parents.
The venue for this advancement of my character was a church social hall about a mile from our home in suburban Philadelphia. It was a large room with a high peeked ceiling above the hardwood floor. Nearly as long as a tennis court, it easily accommodated the sixty or seventy children blinking into the bright light of early adolescence, if not their own, then, as in my case, into others’. Puberty arrives with maddening unpredictability, testing the nerves of every child one way or another. My own maturation was still a year away, but some of my friends and many of the girls were already transforming into entirely new people. Whether the girls maturing early or he boys developing late suffered more was a question that would not occur to me to consider for many years. In that old church, my own awkwardness was the only thing I could think about, and the only thing I imagined everyone else thought about.
The class was run with Germanic efficiency by a tribe of women who hated children, and physical energy generally, or so it seemed. Their role was to patrol the stiffly moving child couples mechanically mimicking the foxtrot. None of the boys in my memory had the slightest interest in either the movements we were instructed to parrot, nor in the tedious piano music played to inspire us towards the higher virtues. Or perhaps the purpose was to shove the lower virtues into the canal of guilt and orderliness. Whatever aspirations energized our parents to engage those awful women, I mainly recall that my friends and I amused ourselves mainly by efforts to back our partners into each other so that our dancing became a sort of human variant of bumper cars at the amusement park. The chastisement of the women patrolling between us only added to the excitement, and our occasional banishment to the edges of the room only amused us further. Whatever impression our antics made on our unfortunate partners almost never bothered my thoughts. I did, however, occasionally discover that one or another of the girls seemed particularly appealing. This disquieting discovery always encouraged me make special efforts to avoid contact with her lest my fundamental inadequacy would prove too obvious. It was the earliest awareness that the opinion of the opposite sex might in fact play a larger role in life than I had imagined. My own personal neon idiocy at these relentlessly awful events was in fact entirely obvious because nothing could have been more stupid and shameful than to dance with pubescent girls, always taller than I was at that time, whose breast buds pointed, when in proper dancing postures, directly at my eyes or forehead. If this had not been entirely clear to me from my own observations, almost every one of my comrades (I hesitate to use the term “friend”) made sure I could not lose sight of my risible inadequacy. All of us, probably struggling with our private humiliations and thus our private rages, carried out nonstop civil disobedience. On several occasions, marbles miraculously began rolling across the dance floor. On several other occasions, the tiny firecrackers that banged when stepped on, were sprinkled by our gang of innocents. No one could imagine how they had appeared, a virgin birth of a sort. Other rebellions, such as peeing in the bushes surrounding the building or trips to the bathroom that stretched out to half-hour visits filled out our repertoire.
One event however, pushed my social education in the church social room from a tedious imposition to a blister of humiliation. For no reason I could imagine, on the final night of the season when the parents attended to watch pridefully as prizes were distributed and everyone showed off their own parodies of adult skills; on that night my name was called out as the winner of the second place dancer amongst the boys. I could not dance! Perhaps none of us could and it was simply a random drawing that had brought down that curse on me. My real judges, the other boys, immediately pronounced their unimpeachable judgment with snorts and snickers and various muttered jibes. It was my hideous fate to have to rise with the first and third prize winners and expose myself in the middle of that huge empty floor, grasp the girl whose misfortune it had also been to win second place, and to dance for our audience. The three couples then were to show off their talents mainly I think to appease the grim needs of our guards who needed to market their teaching skills to their clients, our parents. Of course the poor girl who won second place stood a good six inches taller than I and was sufficiently developed to have looked as though she was dancing with her young cousin at a family wedding. Like a miserable marionette, trapped by his strings, and as graceful as one of those spastic puppets, I suffered through the ritual. Short stature had once more imposed its burdens on me, this time like a searing branding iron.
So, in some strange way, my slow emancipation also began then, because I so violently tore away my parents’ early pride in having a prize-winning son. No force on earth, not Napoleon himself, could drag me back into such torment.
Just as it is undeniable that all virtues exact a cost from the beneficiary; so often too do curses bestow gifts unanticipated. The very next summer following my often-cursed triumph in dancing school, I pressured my parents into agreeing to send me away to an overnight camp in Maine. I’m not certain what made me so assured about wanting to do this. I was certainly not brimming with confidence about myself. Hardly. Nor do I understand where my unshakeable conviction that I wanted to go where long wilderness trips were the main purpose of camping had come from. Perhaps it was the residue of knowing my mother and father clearly could not know what was good for me thrust into me the sense that I needed to take greater charge of these things myself. Perhaps it was just the turning of some hormonal screw. Whatever pushed me, I pushed forward with more assurance than I suspect I’d ever felt before.
Whatever the force, I did go off to overnight camp in Maine, to a place where I knew not a single person, determined to participate in long canoe trips and hiking trips which were generally reserved for the older boys, but which the camp director during his visit to our home had promised I would be permitted to join. For this reason, I was placed in a cabin with boys all older than myself. To further complicate matters, I had been ill and had to fly up to Maine two days after the official opening of the camp, and thus miss the train trip from Philadelphia the other boys had taken. The camp director’s wife and the camp nurse fetched me at the Portland airport, drove me ninety minutes north to the camp itself, and unloaded me and my belongings in front of the cabin around three in the afternoon when all the boys were off at activities. I entered the cabin, a relatively tiny single room with single cots in each corner, and bunk beds between them that allowed each cabin to sleep six boys along with their two counselors. Trunks were slipped beneath the cots and nails everywhere supported jackets and camping gear.
One top bunk was unused, so I presumed this would be where I was to sleep. Completely unsure of what to do, I took out my sleeping bag and unrolled it onto the upper bunk, got in and waited. Perhaps an hour later my new roommates arrived boisterously back from their activities, swarming in like bees into a hive. I feigned sleep and they quickly discovered my presence and began murmuring about how to proceed. Like boys everywhere, aggression overcame judgment. The boy whose bunk was directly below my own lay down on his back and put his two feet on the springs beneath me. Giving a great push, he sent me springing up towards the ceiling. Since I was inside my sleeping bag, I was more worm than cat. I twitched impotently and fell down between the bunk beds and the cot next to it startling me and everyone else in the tiny cabin. Momentarily I think every other boy wondered if they may have begun our acquaintance by killing me. A collective guilt silenced the room while they watched to see whether I would show signs of life, and perhaps while they contemplated their own complicity in the crime. This all was to prove a great advantage to me. I held the power to forgive without having to have uttered a word. If not Bonaparte, then perhaps the Pope! I stirred, slowly and heroically recovering from the assault, peeling away their guilt. Reassured, they were at pains to be particularly friendly. And I, showing off the richness of my forgiving nature, I reassured them I was unharmed. I was, in fact, hurt, so my generosity was unmistakable. I could have pressed charges, but my stoicism posted their bail. Affection and admiration flowed and that trajectory was to dominate my summer thereafter.
My stature did not immediately play a role in this dramatic entrance, but it quickly did. Because I was to go on trips usually reserved for boys at least a year or two older than I was at the time, I was in a cabin with boys a year or two older. The differences between eleven year old boys and thirteen year old boys cannot be underestimated. They stand on opposite sides of one of life’s greatest divides: puberty on the far side with mysteries unknown to those peering from the near side. So my tumble put me into something like the role of a prized younger brother more than an inferior. A special niche opened which I gratefully slid into.
That summer was golden. I fell in love just like a little brother with the older brother I had never had, but must have wanted. He was a handsome college junior, an excellent athlete, and head counselor for our trips. He looked out for me without any hint of demeaning me and helped preserve the status that I could so easily have lost. The biggest trip of the summer was a three-week canoe trip through the wilds of Northern Maine. The ride up was in old open flatbed trucks with the canoes lashed onto the top and the boys and gear hunkered down on the beds with only wooden rails to keep us from flying off on the corners. Looking back, I’m surprised there were not a fleet of lawyers eagerly following the convoy. We put our nine old, worn out Old Town spruce canoes that we had patched and repaired for two weeks prior to the trip into the waters of the West Branch of the lovely Penobscot River. A Maine Guide joined us to help us camp, navigate and generally pay attention to the requirements of what was still fairly wild country. His was our tenth canoe: two counselors, one Maine Guide, and seventeen boys ready to tackle the Allagash River. Our guide also became another Yoda to me. I took pride in the fact that I was assigned to be the bowman for our number two counselor while another boy, generally acknowledged to be physically unpromising, paddled in the bow of the guide’s canoe. That position was never a source of pride because our guide, perhaps 60 years old at the time, often used a small outboard motor affixed to a brace meaning that neither he nor the bowman had any need to paddle. I paddled with the zeal of a hopeful underdog for the entire trip and earned the sobriquet of “Nick of the Woods” from our guide, partially I think because I was always first up and made coffee for us every morning. I don’t think any reference to my person has ever given me more pride, although I would not have acknowledged it at the time.
The Penobscot is a beautiful river that slides north through what were still beautiful, wild and unpopulated areas. Logging was much in evidence and had been the principle driver of the economy there for more than a century. Logging trucks with massive stacks of pine careened down the dirt logging roads at hair-raising speeds because the drivers were paid, like everyone, for what they delivered, not for their hours. There were still remnants of older traditions when the logs would be tossed into the rivers, and then towed across the huge lakes by tugs that had enormous, mile-long booms attached. The booms were made of logs that had been chained to one another until they formed huge towing pens for the logs being dragged to the mills. While we saw some old retired tugs, and later some equally old, retired steam locomotives, none of these were still working, and the logging itself was mostly far from the rivers and lakes we paddled over.
We paddled down the Penobscot into the huge Lake Chesuncook, my first experience in a canoe further from a shore that I thought I could swim to; and so, too, it was my first experience in understanding that anxiety and excitement are almost precisely the same emotion, excitement being anxiety that falls just below a certain sense of endangerment. We had been required to learn how to get a canoe, capsized in deep water, sufficiently emptied out that it could again be paddled at least to shallow water. But here, in this majestic body of water, I doubted I could have managed it. Somehow I managed to feel exhilaration rather than fear. I think I was insisting to myself and everyone else that I was worthy and capable. My ruse paid off because after a while, I began to be both, maybe my first real step into adulthood. Little by little, I might become what I was pretending to be.
Chesuncook led into Lake Unbazoosksas, Penobscot Indian names I loved as though they had been gifts made directly and secretly to me. From here, we had to portage across Mud Pond, a nasty bug infested place where our gear and canoes had to be carried some seven miles. Once more, my determination to belong entirely overcame my physical struggles to deal with the exhausting challenges of all that work. Beyond Mud Pond lay the splendid Allagash River basin. We camped several nights on the shore of the endless Eagle Lake where we could fish and explore and savor the rewards of a layover free from the work of seven or eight hours of paddling. On one of those days, two other boys and I paddled well out into that enormous lake when the wind was high and the sky overcast, intent on fishing for our dinner. Two of us paddled for a couple of hours while the third one managed the lines we were trolling. Cold and discouraged by being constantly splashed by the cold waves, and by catching nothing, we decided to reel in our lines and return to our camp. The three of us must have been looking at the same moment off to the side when a dream of a fish blew out of the water maybe 60 yards from our canoe. “Did you see that?” we yelled to one another, and then it occurred to us all we may have caught our fish. Like boyish old men of the sea, we coaxed our catch slowly to the side of the canoe and netted him into the bottom, half mad with triumph. When we brought our trophy to the camp late in the afternoon, we were cold and drained and filled with the thrill that overcoming nature produces, a primal satisfaction I have experienced in no other context.
Our Maine Guide, familiar and skilled in handling fish from those waters, showed us how to scale, gut and prepare the fish for frying. It was, he told us, a three pound land locked salmon, an excellent catch. By the time it was sizzling in the frying pan, the sun was on the horizon and the other boys had eaten. We were ravenous from our labors, but exultant that we would be eating like royalty. No meal has ever given me more pleasure. None has been better deserved, none has been the fruit of harder labor, and none has been observed by more hungry eyes. And no meal has better verified my grandmother’s nostrum that “hunger is the best sauce.”
Finally, we entered the Allagash River itself, freed from the draining business of paddling throughout long days into headwinds in open water, but now subject to white water. While the rapids on the Allagash are less severe and challenging than some, our canoes were loaded with supplies and they were old. The Spruce planking often was rotted, and the old canvas was torn and patched. They all leaked, either a little or a lot, so that everyone packed their gear on top of poles laid in the bottom to keep the gear from sitting in water all day. One day, going down “Chase’s Rapids,” two campers allowed their bows to come too close to submerged rocks and both boats were lost in twenty seconds. Rapidly moving water generates huge power that largely accounted for much of the energy economy of early New England when the heavy water was channeled over waterwheels to power mills. In a river when the current is strong, and the bow of a canoe comes too close to a rock with water flowing around it, the bow will be pushed into the current flowing away from the rock which will lever the stern of the canoe quickly sideways to the current. The weight of the fast moving water now puts enormous pressure on the fragile boat. The upstream gunnel then drops down into the current loading the boat with water. The full force of the water folds it around the rock, breaking its spine. This event happens rapidly and is utterly beyond the control of anyone in the canoe. It teaches a sobering lesson: none of us, however skilled, will ever be immune to the power of natural forces. I felt a primitive respect for that power watching those two canoes give up their lives to the implacable river. Hubris took a step back.
Those of us downstream of these two accidents found calmer waters where we could catch and bring ashore most of the supplies which had been dumped into the river. The boys and supplies were then divided up amongst the remaining canoes and suffered from the ignominy of finishing our trip north more as baggage than as participants. In some way, since I had avoided their fate, my own honor increased and I returned to camp and home like an Odysseus without a Penelope, a hero of my own story. Perhaps, in fact, not a hero, but only deeply nourished by a sort of pride I do not think I had experienced before in my life. It was not vanity, at least not for the most part. It was something that simply made it easier to live with some comfort inside my own skin.
I had not, however, grown much, and I remained for some time, the shortest boy in my class at school. At least that is how I remember it now, but being so aware of the undependability of memory, I cannot entirely dismiss the thought that it may simply be my story that I was the shortest boy. Perhaps the story is truer here than the ruler. I am entirely confident that I felt like the shortest boy, whether it was factually the case or not. That dance class had drawn a tattoo in my mind no laser would erase. Pride in my occasional successes struggled without any definitive victory with the shames of my failings, many of which were most easily associated with my stature. By the time I was fifteen, the jaws of love had begun gnawing at me, and my first infatuation, an exquisitely developed goddess, gathered up much of my mental energy. During this period in history, (mine or the whole culture? I’m not sure) courting began with a request to attend a movie. In order to do so, one required the taxi services provided by parents and this introduced huge complexities into an already complex project.
The first hurdle was to speak with her, rather than to simply look at her, something that had apparently been insufficient to win her over to that point. The year before my hormones began to alert me that they would be in charge of things for the next decade or two, I had taken a solemn oath with my close friend that neither of us would ever permit ourselves to be distracted by a girl. We were resolved that the only real friendships that mattered were the solid sorts of bonds that united boys.
But that had been a year earlier and oaths die easy deaths at that age. Besides, he was now “with someone.” I needed to call. I had to make some sort of actual contact with the object of my reveries. I made lists of possible points of discussion, discarded them all as idiotic, and then made new lists. I dialed her number which meant in all likelihood speaking with her parents. I dialed. I must have dialed twenty or thirty times and hung up before allowing their phone to even ring. A parent would answer and ask who was calling at which point I would hang up. I was not confident about this project. Janis was, after all, an inch or so taller than me. Why should I even suppose this could work? Idiotic. Finally, fishing once more against all odds of success, I allowed the phone to ring, and told her mother, who doubtless understood my base motives, that I had hoped to speak with her daughter. Janis was lovely, friendly, and never mentioned my stature. She agreed to watch a movie at my side and my father agreed to act as chauffeur. Janis and I sat in the front seat of our family’s Chevy which had the bench seats common in the early sixties. My father, it turned out, was far more at ease with my date than I was. He chatted freely and made clever jokes, designed I thought to demonstrate what a delightful and amusing fellow he was compared to his son. On the way home from our night at the cinema Janis sat in the middle seat, between my dad and I. As was the case before, he was voluble while I was awkward. Was he showing me up, or bailing me out? Neither was tolerable. This sort of dating was clearly not going to work out.
Dad was a very big man physically. He was, as far as I knew, almost supernaturally strong. I had heard a story, early in my life about how a car had slipped off its jack pinning his leg somehow, and he had lifted the car up to free himself. He had once tried out for the Philadelphia Eagles football team. He was a specimen of masculinity that I could never hope to emulate and his presence always seemed to emphasize my modest physicality. Only many years later did it even occur to me that this message of his prowess might have had more to do with him than with me. Perhaps it is one of life’s supreme challenges to appreciate that we are not living at its center. But by then, it was almost too late. Certainly it was too late to help me manage things with Janis. There were no more movies or liaisons I remember. Dating would have to await the enormous liberation of having access to a car.
Mercifully, nature did not strand me on the shore of short people. I never grew tall, but I did grow, on and on, into my early twenties, sufficiently that there were a significant supply of girls I felt at ease with. By the time I finished college, I had even been confident enough to date several girls a few inches taller than I was.
Short stature did, however, continue to play its games, both real and metaphorical, with my efforts to locate myself in the world. Somewhere around the time I had gathered my courage to take Janis to a movie, I had also gathered enough courage to go out for the basketball team. When I told our coach of my ambition, he actually laughed as though I had told him a marvelous joke. “Sure,” he said, “Give it a try,” as though I had proposed rowing across the Atlantic. Oddly enough, the transparency of his skepticism was easier for me than many other more subtle reminders of my inadequacies. His was an undisguised skepticism, rather than those more hidden, concealed doubts that I suspected preoccupied most other minds. He cut me on the second day of tryouts and I agreed with him. I had no skills, nor even much interest in the game. There was no further need for any pretense.
Something else happened during that period of time, something that had nothing whatever to do with stature, because it occurred in a classroom where, being seated, we were democratized in stature. It was an English class taught by a vigorous committed young man whose greatest passion was in teaching Moby Dick. We read this great tome slowly, over perhaps two months altogether. I read it. I thought about it. I got interested in it and I began to speak with some energy about it in our classroom discussions. I seemed to have opinions, and the very discovery that I did set me alight. I was excited to be thinking. It’s odd to say it; to look back and believe my mind altered in some kind of subtle way I don’t think I had experienced before. Ishmael seemed to have something to say to me. It very likely was his restless need to get away from it all which he confesses with terrible bluntness in the very first page: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; when it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul….then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.” Not that I was in contemplation of suicide, but the status quo was proving more and more difficult. Perhaps Bonaparte had chosen that moment to whisper in my ear that greater things were possible. Something assuredly did change that year. My favorite chapter in Moby Dick (is it everyone’s favorite?) is the short poetical celebration of Bulkington, the helmsman heroically steering the Pequod away from the temptations of the harbor, from ease and comfort, sirens which paradoxically represent the greatest peril of all. How fascinated I was to think of safety as endangering. Not that I had an iota of Bulkington’s moxie in my repertoire, but I think I did by then have an increasingly energetic sense that I had to move, to go somewhere; that I, too, was “growing grim about the mouth.” Moby Dick, or Melville, or the wonderful energetic teacher listening to me try to think about it; some catalyst encouraged something new in me that year.
To move meant, above all, to move from the confining cocoon I had grown up in. Well, maybe that is just what Bulkington was there to tell me: move out, take risks, drive out into the storm and trust in your own small ship to keep you afloat in this world. From that year, the name Pequod has held a nook of reverence in my heart.
In truth, my life evolved slowly just as my stature did. My uncle, I had often heard, stayed in bed one entire summer with “growing pains.” He had supposedly grown six inches over one summer, but I grew, oak-like, an inch a year. The story seemed a slightly desperate attempt to ease my own fears, or perhaps, as I look back now, my father’s. I had won the English prize as the top English student that year, an award so unexpected, it has remained one of my principle treasures, a little affirmation tucked safely into my heart. And the significance of stature retreated slightly.
These memories, and many others, unrecorded or unremembered, comprise a story of my complicated effort to come of age. I expect it is, generally if not in the particulars, not so different from many others’ experiences, although to say so now suggests to me how far I have come from those fretful days when I was so unsure of finding a place in the larger world. I would not then have even imagined that my own experience was anything but my own, so lost was I in its preoccupations. Moreover, I imagined everyone else’s lives flowing smoothly towards maturity, like the Big Easy moving through Memphis, while I thrashed with the turbulence of some small spring creek crashing downhill with an unknown destiny. Nowadays I imagine we are generally more alike than we suppose, and I feel compassion more easily for my own clumsy self as well as for clumsiness in others. This slow erosion of distance between me and all those others has been generally a great blessing and one I wish I could easily give to so many young people, trapped as I was, in the imprisoning impression that their inadequacies might never allow them full admission into the fairgrounds of our lives. I doubt Bonaparte ever felt this, the poor fellow.