This week, in a moment of personal abandon, I took myself (alone to a matinée, no less) to see “The Imitation Game” starring flavor of the year, Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s a great movie to see without your wife in case your eyes leak.
I find that I strongly identify with the metaphor of the exile. I strongly connect with the outsider who does not find redemption. There is a self-indulgent piece of my software that thinks it can understand the story of the brilliant mess. This may not be for any so obvious desire as to feel justified in one’s own dysfunction. I realize I often indulge my egoism and believe myself “different” but that isn’t the whole story here. Perhaps there is a piece in many of us that finds truth is such feelings of aloneness. Some of us have learned to play the game better than others, though we still struggle to fit in with what someone somewhere describes as “normal”.
Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine. (from The Imitation Game)
Many of us feel that we live in a world that only partly understands us; and we are not always good at understanding that world. Throughout history there have been the stories of the exiled, the loner, the stranger, the anti-hero, the classic underachiever who finally finds their way – only to be ultimately disappointed. You see this in the all-consuming rush to be unique, to define ourselves by clothing or ink or motorcycles or grooming as something beyond the ordinary. The minutia of the daily grind has only served to exacerbate this emptiness.
I am certainly not a man struggling not to be sterilized because of a lifestyle choice, misunderstood by the whole world – a world he knew he had played a major part in saving. Alan Turing experienced life on a level I could never imagine, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch as a man obviously struggling with what was until recently regarded as Aspergers. There is no solid evidence to support such a diagnosis but it made for an intriguing tale of a misfit who saved the world. Turing is usually described as a genius and arguably one of the most influential men that most people had not heard about until this week.
The work of Bletchley Park is the stuff of legend among most of the history geeks I hang around with. The operation involved thousands of individuals at it’s zenith, and they are credited with saving perhaps as many as fourteen million souls, perhaps more. Turing went on to be convicted of being a homosexual and chemically castrated. He poisoned himself, a lonely and broken man for whom the world was an unwelcoming whore. The hero who chose the right over the easy and was punished for it in the end. A powerful narrative, timeless.
This offends our sense of fairness, once again. We speak of this often around here but it continues to haunt my life. Turing should have had his Hollywood ending, clicked his ruby slippers, and been honored as the amazing juggernaut that he was. Such was, indeed, not to be the case. There are many times when doing the right thing only adds misery to our lives, in spite of the fairytale endings that others get, but we never do. Sometimes the rich get richer and bad things do happen to good people and no one ever stops by to apologize. Bad people do not always, or even usually, get their “just desserts”. It is one thing to accept this intellectually, it is another thing altogether to accept this on an emotional level.
Bitterness. That is the reward for those of us who cannot learn to cope with this unpleasant reality. Exiles often wonder when it will be their turn. Sometimes that turn does not come in ways we think are fair.
It is a sad movie, and becomes even sadder when you get to the parking lot and google Alan Turing. I knew the outcome going in, though still managed to feel bad for this eccentric and misunderstood man. Walking to the car we want to believe that somehow, and in some way, people like Turing get what they deserve. Not in this life.
Learning to let go of that expectation for my life has been difficult. We desperately want to believe that people will eventually understand our particular mad genius. Alan Turing is testimony to the fact that for many of us, there is no rainbow and ticket home from Oz. Your mother may appreciate your uniqueness, but chances are that society cares very little what your mother thinks. It’s one thing to know you are unique. It’s another thing altogether for the world to stand up and notice. That sucks.
I don’t want to end on a low note. In counselling we learn that the trip towards wisdom has a little tiny bit to do with, as the 12 Step people say, learning to live “life on life’s terms”. That is mindfulness. That is psychology and philosophy and faith. As I endeavour to embrace the waves of stress and disappointment and then allow them to pass through me, I am learning to lower my expectations of life and those around me. This is, because of my limited understanding, always going to be a “here but not yet” experience. Most revelations are, in my experience.
I am an exile, and chance are you are as well. We are all alone, misunderstood, and insecure. The sooner I accept who I really am, not just who I wish I was, the faster I will move forward. I have to believe that.
One final thought. There is a piece of my ego that is tied up with the idea of being an exile. Many who have been told they were less, or different, or ugly or slow or whatever sick tag you want to wear. Sometimes we learn to cope by embracing that wound and wearing it like a badge of honour. There is some value in that, I’m not here to deny it’s efficacy. I have also learned, however, that it is easy to turn that label into a point of pride. It’s hard to let go of something that defines us. There are those who have allowed that brokenness to define them. To keep them broken.
Growth is about forward momentum, not momentary successes. Allowing myself to change my expectations of those weird normies around me is a step. So is accepting the fact that I’m a bit of a weirdo, too. But that’s another story.