As his motto as a writer, my dad used to use the Latin phrase, I forget what it was, for "we are all the same." That's what he believed: That people were far more alike than different in the most important ways, and that the purpose of communication was to reveal that essential similarity.
But sometimes, communication shows a difference where we did not believe there was one, and that can be enlightening too. Take the other night.
I was in a noisy, hot bar with a woman I know only a little bit, but like a lot. I see her maybe once a year, always when we've each had a few, and we blast straight into intense talk—about work (she's an interior designer with a lot of absurd ideas, I'm a writer with some of my own) … about the fortunes and character of the friends we have in common … and about raising only-child girls. Hers is eight and mine's turning 11.
Over the pounding music the other night, I flew into a verbal essay about how raising a kid means gradually realizing that you have not, in fact, created a one-of-a-kind geniussaint who because of your inspired influence is and will forever be free of the world's grossness, uninfluenced by its stupidity and instead, always and utterly devoted to the very highest things in life.
Instead, you must increasingly acknowledge that you have created a person who, however utterly gorgeous to you, is actually a lot like the rest of us, who muddle along all day trying to do some fucking thing that's useful and hoping not to act as jerky and selfish and thoughtless as our colleagues and loved ones worry we will (because we have before).
Seriously. I said all that, in the middle of a crowded bar, in a lot more detail, and I added the that, when Scout was born, the black receptionist at the publisher I worked at declared her belief, offering no evidence except her own tears, that Scout would become the next Martin Luther King. I remember having to work hard to pretend to be skeptical. Under my careful direction, of course Scout would become the next Martin Luther King. Actually, make that guitarist/comic/motorcyclist Martin Luther King who could throw down a reverse dunk like an absolute badass.
My friend is a good listener. Also, I was shouting in her ear, so I didn't have a lot of time to make eye contact until I was finished with my theory.
Then I looked her in the eye and said expectantly, "You know what I mean?"
And she said, "No! Not at all!"
"You mean you never fantasized that L— would be a saint, and have had to adjust your expectations, realizing that they were ridiculously nutty, but totally natural and every parent has them?"
"No! I never had those expectations! And it's a good thing! Because L— quite often comes home from school knowing she's been a jerk. I never thought she'd be anything more than another imperfect person, just like her father and me."
She said it all in a way that made me unable to dismiss her denial as some kind of earthy pose. She said it with an open face and a matter-of-fact tone that, didn't judge me harsly for what we both saw as my totally egotistical and crazy point of view.
We both laughed. It was funny. I had communicated a deep, closely held idea to what I thought was a very like-minded parent of an only-child girl—to a woman of my generation and socioeconomic class and politics—with an assumption that, "We are all the same."
I wonder how you say in Latin, "No, we aren't!"