Monday, January 28, 2013

A Glass Darkly

I was going to do a blog about the meaning of Imbolg. I will probably make that the second part of this entry (posted in a few days). But first, I want to share a story.

The story is about a woman I knew in collage. I've mentioned her before, years ago. While at Douglass College (Rutger's University) I fell into a grand group of women who were part of the commuter community (OK, we had a few resident students in the mix, but that's not important). We started being called “Animal Corner” because we sat in the commuter lounge, between classes, at a huge round table that was our second home. We were typical brainy geeks: Star Trek fiends, into the metaphysical as well as sciences. It was a good time for me, one I think of fondly.

One of our members was doing a Bachelors in Space Science; quite a pioneer. I loved her: She was quick-witted, friendly, bright, even tempered. We even traveled to Europe together, along with another long time friend. After graduation, she worked in Princeton and, eventually, because a NASA engineer. It was then that contact between us faded. I would write long, personal letters and received, in return, mass produced “updates” - like those annoying “Xmas Letters” some people send. Eventually I wrote and told her that if she didn't have time to correspond, that was fine. I would rather hear from a friend once or twice a year  than receive mailings as though I was part of her fan club.

When my first book was published, I sent her a copy. When the shuttle Columbia burnt up over Texas, I sent her my sympathies. I knew she had friends aboard. At that point, I did hear back from her, saying she was receiving an award from our college, and would I like to meet up? We did. I spent a weekend driving her around, taking her shopping or back to my house for a meal. I arranged for another old college chum to visit.

None of it mattered. She only wanted to discuss her achievements, her awards, her glowing endorsements. I was a published author and our other friend was a scientist with Lockheed Martin. No matter. We spent hours politely looking at pictures of her fencing club, hearing about people we didn't know. For all that, we learned nothing of her everyday life. It was all posture and pose. We were cast as her receptive audience – like it or not.

When I took her back to her lodgings, the evening before the award ceremony (to which I hadn't been invited), she took her leave of me. After the ceremony, she was heading back to Texas. I e-mailed her a few days later to say how nice it was to see her again, but she never replied. Apparently my usefulness was at an end.

I have seen a few things about her in the past several years. In July 2011, CNN did an article about her. The photo that went along with it showed her in a space suit. That struck me hard. She was never an astronaut – washed out due to height and vision – but the implication was there. When she addressed another group, they billed her as an engineer and an astronaut. I never saw a correction. All this rankled me. What had happened to my bright, cleaver, loving friend from college? She seemed to have turned into a self-promotion machine. She called herself a Renaissance woman, a dynamic speaker and motivator.

It made me sad that there was so much “her” in her head there was no room for old friends.

The other day, before I closed down the computer, I did a random look up on Google for people I use to know. One of the names I checked was my old friend. I was shocked to find a series of videos. In several, she looked much older, defeated. She was talking about bullying – how it had effected her in High School, and how it had re-occurred at NASA. She was now on disability, hadn't worked for 2 years, and was suffering from stress. Some videos pleaded for help – there was even a fireside chat to the President about sitting in the dark because the electric bill could not be paid.

There were a series of tragedies: she went on disability and had to take in borders. She ended up sleeping on a mattress in her computer room. Her sister died. The house was eventually foreclosed, and she was living in a rental. She had broken her hand, as well as her 1995 Ford, and had so little money she couldn't afford cat litter for her 4 cats.

I was/ am completely floored! My first thought, after my heart broke, was how much could I afford to send her for food and kitty litter? Then I realized: I'm also on disability, and have bills to pay. There is still no resolution to my medical coverage problems, although it is getting fixed. Until then, all expenses are out-of-pocket. I can't afford anything but sympathy. I'm not sure if the bullying was simply due to NASA being a man's game (and military at that) and she didn't have thick enough skin, or if it was imagined. It hardly matters. Did that megalomaniacal bend to her personality cost her a job, friends and security? Possibly. There is always Karma with which to contend.

The lesson I learned is this: you just never know. People walk this Earth wearing a skin that may be all facade, but internally things could be crumbling to dust. You have to walk away from the unpleasant and reserve judgment. Also, you have to remember where you started, and be kind to people who shared your past. Treat others as you would be treated and, if you are making ends meet in this world – however humbly – be thankful.

I take no pleasure in this woman's situation. It does, however, make me take a deeper look at myself.

No comments:

Post a Comment