“It’s Not Enough to be Intelligent”

ao Rio-de-Janeiro

“It’s Not Enough to be Intelligent” 

Today Fran, my therapeutic riding teacher, told me I have “a beautiful physique” on a horse and could qualify for the International competitions in “para-dressage” (dressage for the handicapped). People compete in those events who are paralyzed from the waist down, missing an arm, and so forth. Compared to those entrants, riding with one stirrup and the other foot good for nothing, which is what I do, ain’t that bad.

She said, if I wanted to do it, I could compete in Rio next March at the Olympic level. The U.S. government would sponsor me. I don’t quite follow these categories and levels, so what I say here is approximative. I’d have to ride three times a week instead of my present once a week every Sunday, to make up for the years of training other competitors have got on me.

Her suggestion comes at a moment when I’m feeling unusually disoriented. Some weeks back I told of being referred to a “physiatrist” who could finely calibrate the scope of neural and muscular disfunction. In the best case, the neural part could be treated directly and the muscular part also remedied with targeted PT.

I was expectant, but instead of the anticipated follow-through on the physiatrist’s evaluation, there was a weird fade-out from the referring physician and his staff. The hopes raised had been so specific and the erasure of them so amnesiac, that I was put in mind of one of those Hitchcock films in black and white. You know, where the couple checks in to the European hotel, the next morning her husband goes out and fails to return, and the staff denies she had been accompanied by a husband.

What neuropathy? What blood work? What PT with a personal trainer? When? What faxes? What phone calls? What physiatrist? I’m not kidding.

The effect on me has been devastating. Depression is a syndrome involving the inability to find one’s motivations. I’m not usually prey to that syndrome. But the present development has sent all kinds of echoes down the corridors of memory. Since this handicap first made its presence known, I’ve dealt with a succession of purported healers, Western and holistic-other. Many would give early indications of effectiveness, at least long enough to prompt hopes, and then the Janus-faced coin would turn its other face. No cure and no chance of one.

At times like this, I’m tempted to envy people who think life is absurd, never search for meanings, and thereby insulate themselves against disappointment. It’s as if my very hopefulness leads me to discover hopelessness anew.

The suffering seems almost customized. What could bother Abbie the most? Not to be free to move expressively. Not to move in sympathy with the surrounding world. Not to release the tensions that inhere in the intellectual life by the most natural means.

What is Abbie’s great arm against life’s disappointments? Hope. What would cause her the most customized suffering? A syndrome wherein hope cannot intelligently be given up (because you never know … ) and yet leads almost predictably to its dashing – the dashing of hope.

Hey, it looks quite a bit like a contradiction. The currents of a person’s life lead to X, but also lead to not-X.

But wait. What do I know, what have I learned, about such contradictions?

My mother, when she was dying in the hospice, looked at me with her most commonsensical, unimpressed look.

  • “Don’t think you understand everything about life because you are intelligent,” she said to me. “It’s not enough to be intelligent.”

My own intelligence has been used up on this. What does that tell me about the kind of checkmate I’m looking at today?

It’s God’s calling card.

We can’t solve it with our unadorned, self-given resources. Time to wait. Time to look up. Not with all the hopes invested in this remedy or the next one. Rather with hope that God doesn’t play dice with a human life.

Should I enter the competition in Rio? There are reasons, that will be familiar to future readers of the just-completed Confessions of a Young Philosopher, why I don’t want to hear Portuguese spoken again. Also, nothing could be more bizarre and far-out, for me. Well,

time to look up. 

Time to wait.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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1 Response to “It’s Not Enough to be Intelligent”

  1. Pingback: “Conversations with My Foot” | "Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column"

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