Bad At Small Talk

The Manute Bol Problem

Chances are, you’ll never do as much good as Manute Bol did in his lifetime. But cheer up. Chances are, your death won’t be nearly as excruciating.

When the NBA center died over the weekend, the initial reports referenced his cause of death as being a combination of kidney failure and “a painful skin condition.” That condition, more specifically, is known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

Here is what happens, in a nutshell, with Stevens-Johnson syndrome: Skin cells begin to die off, at first giving the appearance of a rash. But as the condition worsens, and as cells continue to die, the epidermis detaches from the dermis.

In a much smaller nutshell: Your skin peels off. And you feel it.

Here, again in a nutshell, is what most people mentioned about Manute Bol after his death: He was 7-7, Sudanese, not much of a basketball player save for his ability to block shots, seemed to be more affable than the typical professional athlete and more or less bled himself fiscally dry in his charity efforts toward the Sudanese people.

So the implied question so far: Manute Bol’s philanthropy ate most of his NBA fortune, and he died in extreme pain. Where’s the justice?

A personal aside: I wasn’t familiar with Bol as a player, or with his work in Africa. I would not have known about his death if it hadn’t happened on a day when boredom kept me online reading news. I kept reading articles until I found one that specified his “painful skin condition.” Then I went to Google.

A suggestion: You do not want to see photos of people with Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

Something my hippy-dippy stepmother used to say when I was young: “Karma is very real.”

So upon reading of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, Bol’s charity and Bol’s agony, I naturally dug further. Because, naturally, there had to be more. Illegitimate kids? A drug addiction? Dead hookers? Something?

Okay, I finally found this: He had a gambling problem. It doesn’t really balance the scales.

Here’s a quote from Jeff Ruland, one of Bol’s former teammates: “If that guy didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.”

Perhaps you’re chewing on all this, which, granted, isn’t what people come to social networking sites to chew on. But in the name of personal vanity, let’s assume you are. But you’re not a former pro athlete. You’re not going to blow your fortune on helping people (and, okay, a little blackjack.) Statistically speaking, you won’t need morphine before you die.

So let’s get into the real world. And, patience permitting, a longer personal aside.

Years ago, I had this coworker. Let’s call him [NAME REDACTED]. [NAME REDACTED] was, for lack of anything better, a doofus. He dressed poorly, looked goofy, made simple mistakes and, the downfall of doofuses everywhere, had no aw-shucks manner of admitting that he was, in fact,a doofus.

So we tore him apart.

Not to his face, of course. Adult bullying doesn’t work that way. Adult bullying takes place around the water cooler or in the parking lot, where words are said far away from the victim. [NAME REDACTED] became our pinata, our hobby, the one thing that brought us together and made us feel better.

We had a ringleader in this bullying. It was me. See, I had been the office doofus before [NAME REDACTED] came about and out-doofused me. So when it came to undercutting poor old [NAME REDACTED], I led the charge. When [NAME REDACTED] made some inevitable goof, I laughed the hardest.

Here are some other things about [NAME REDACTED]: He volunteered his time with kids. He went to church, but in the good way. He never said anything unkind about anyone who wasn’t there. He adopted a dog.

[NAME REDACTED] also joined a local community organization. He had to…we made sure he was never invited to any office get-togethers. One night, after a party at the home of one of those organization members, [NAME REDACTED] got pulled over. His blood-alcohol was barely above the legal limit. We laughed about that one, me the hardest of all. He had to take a second job to cover the suddenly-high insurance rates on his vehicle. It was a humiliating job. I laughed the hardest if all.

Not one of us, lest of all the ringleader, ever “paid” for our “crimes.” Oh sure, in the years since then, I’m sure we all have had flat tires, fender-benders, credit card debt and kidney stones. Maybe all that was our “karma.” Pretty lame.

It never got better for [NAME REDACTED]. He got laid off from one job, then another, then another. I got some laughs out of that, too. And my career took off.

Assume this for me: We don’t know what happens when we die.

Assume this for me: There’s no such thing as karma.

Think about this, then. Think hard. Which may not be what you’re in the mood for. But just do it. Sit there and consider that you, really, are off the hook. Not for things like first-degree murder or farting in an elevator, but for the day-to-day things. You’re off the hook for the little ways you sit on your friends and family because you know they’ll let you sit on them. You’re off the hook for that split-second pump you get when you’ve said something so perfect and so cruel that you know you just “won.” You’re off the hook for the little betrayals, the moments of self-indulgence, for the excusable irratability.

You’re also off the hook for all the good you can give before your body gives out. You’re off the hook for the small kindness that changes someone’s mood, the way you make your pet’s sleeping area just so, the time and money you give to others, the time you spare for those who need it.

Consider that your career might take off regardless. Consider that your kidneys will fail and your skin will peel off and it will hurt. Consider that your house won’t flood, that your child will excel, that your boss can’t afford to keep you and that you will get pulled over.

What would you do, if you weren’t tethered to anything? If your ultimate reward turned out to be a punishment, and your ultimate punishment turned out to be a reward? Could you still give everything? Would you take everything? Would you fall somewhere along the spectrum?

Decide.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment