Yogi Berra said, “When you get to the fork in the road, take it.” Jim seems to be heeding that advice. I knew Jim as a teacher, coach, and friend. Most students considered him accessible and trustworthy. He was bright and talented, inspiring people to come alive intellectually simply because of his passion for the world of ideas. Nor did he seem to have any kind of used car to sell–he was not trying to get everyone to see it all his way. His rapport among students and peers was clear, and as a result, he emerged as a leader, eventually winning an appointment as headmaster of another top-tier school.
Recently, I was shocked to learn he is now among the 1/1000 men in the U.S. (Wiki) who have had surgery in an attempt to change gender.
Sadly, Jim’s private crisis has come crashing into public, and he has more spectators than a wreck on the interstate. He published an autobiography earlier this year. Still, if you slow down to look, you may yet learn two important lessons for your own journey.
First, it’s dangerous to put something less than the real problem in the place of your ultimate problem. Alexksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” A fractured identity is the ultimate reason we can feel ill at ease in our own skin. Someone whose greatest challenge is anything less than the human condition itself will eventually claim victim status. Victims are prone to passive forms of self expression–like excessive piercings, body art, or Jim’s penultimate sacrifice at the edge of the abyss.
Second, when we make something less than the human condition the problem, then we tend to make something less than God the savior. As Eddie Murphy said, we start “Wookin’ pa nub” in all the wrong places. I have noticed this tendency, particularly in over-functioning, bright people. They become anxious for fixes and seek solutions with urgency—in excessive exercise, eastern mysticism, or the latest diet trend. They may throw themselves into the lives of other victims in a mad dash for their own sense of justice and, self-justification, but without a vision to rise above.
The fanatic, suspecting he may have lost his way, increases speed. Stepping in front of him with a word of truth can be an act of compassion, rather than judgment.