Tuesday, March 18, 2014



            Two men ride by on bicycles.  They each look strange in a different way.  One is whiskery, as in unshaven for two days, riding a small bike, and hunched over a large box he is balancing on his lap.  The other, riding on the other side of the road, is riding a very tall thin old-fashioned "English" bike and sitting up very straight.  He too is "whiskery." He has a fairly long grey beard and long grey hair.   He is sitting ramrod straight and riding a hundred feet behind the other guy and on the opposite side of the road. He is the one on the correct side of the road. The tall guy is tall and thin on a tall thin bike and the short guy, while not fat, is slightly plump. 
            They both strike me as strange, but then I think of people dear to me, Keith, for example, my brother Tom, Judy, Jaison, Rosy.  My parents. Everyone I know is strange and interesting.
            I remember one time when my kids were tweens and we were talking about one of our family friends, and the kids said that person was strange.  Then, one of us mentioned another friend, and that friend, too, was pronounced weird, and then we named everyone we knew, and they were all pronounced weird.  It turned into a kind of game, taking turns naming a person we thought might be normal and the others ticked off the weirdosities of that person.  Oh yeah.  We laughed and laughed.  Then we tried hard to think of someone who was not weird, but name as we might, we thought of weirdosities for every single person.  We finally settled on one person who we decided was not weird, Betsy Fallon. 
            Betsy, my husband's sister, had two children, taught preschool, lived in a nice house by the lake, had a nice dog, a nice husband (who was weird), and acted "normal," whatever that mean.
            Years later, we decided Betsy, too, was weird, and could think of no one who wasn't.  Including, of course, ourselves. 
            What exactly is normal?
            I remember reading an article in Science News about Perceived Beauty.   They showed a bunch of pictures of people to a bunch of people and had them rate them on a scale of one to ten for attractiveness.  The images had been produced by a computer that overlaid pictures of many people, 3, 5, 9, 15 and many more.  The more faces combined into the image, the higher the attractiveness rating. 
            What we perceive as most beautiful, according to the article, is actually most average.  The more average person is the most beautiful or attractive (handsome) she or he appears to our animal minds.  The too big noses are averaged out by the too small noses, the too big chins by the too small ones, the wide mouths by the narrow ones.  Something in our animal nature is programmed to find the most average face attractive. 
            There may be an adaptive advantage to this.  If I, who have tendency to gain too much weight, marry a man who is delightfully thin, perhaps our children will approach normalcy.  Or not--some may be fat and some thin.  Perhaps those people who look most normal have the greatest opportunity to be used as breeding stock if we perceive them as attractive.
            I wonder if that might also be true with behavior.  Those people who behave in a pattern closest to what society labels as normal have the greatest breeding potential and thus theoretically produce the most offspring and create the largest pool of their genetic material in future generations.
            I think of the two men who rode by on their bikes, and I think to myself that "the very fact that they are riding bikes with all this snow and these puddles makes them weird, especially since they are adults, not kids or teens."  Then I think, "I might do that myself."  And then I think, "Yeah, but I'm weird."  The “normal” people in my neighborhood go to the gym if they exercise at all.
            And then I think of the people I love best in the world.  They are all out on the tail ends of the bell curve for normalcy—not so far out as to be dangerous, gust far enough out to be really interesting.
            We tend to be afraid of unfamiliar people who look weird or strange.  But when we get to know them, they look like people we know and love.  Those two men--they might each be someone's dearly beloved. They may never have met each other, but this may be the day that they meet and become lifelong friends--or lifelong enemies.  I vote for friends. Or, they might be nefarious criminals bent on some far-out scheme, only pretending to not be together so no one will suspect that inside box are the weapons they need to rob the bank on the corner and begin a long and devious crime spree.

            Interesting as the crime binge may be, my guess is that they are probably ordinary people involved in ordinary lives, and I know from long experience that many of our ordinary lives are quite extraordinary!


John said...

I really enjoyed this thought provoking post Mary.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Thanks, John, for your kind words! :-D

a/k/a Nadine said...

Yup, great post!

I feel like I might be better able to name "normal" people now as an adult than I was able to as a kid. Perhaps because I've now known so many "weirdos" that other people fall into the normal category (whatever that means) even if they have small oddities. Or maybe my perspective has changed and i just view most people as normal...