The Thinker

Just Folks

My wife has many wonderful attributes. I should sing her praises more often here on my blog. I mean it’s not every husband whose wife is:

– A great and enriching mother
– A loving and devoted spouse
– An amazingly talented writer who one of these days will doubtless become published and write a bestseller
– When she is in the mood, a terrific chef
– Extremely well read. She not only knows a little bit about everything. She knows a lot about everything.
– Affectionate and thoughtful
– A wizard at puzzles. We’re not talking about just crossword puzzles but any type of puzzle. Nothing fazes her. She can figure out any problem. She can get out of any box.
– Builds computers for friends in her limited spare time, and rarely charges a fee
– Dotes on everything living in the house, including our cat, our daughter’s fish and the African violet on the kitchen windowsill
– Can actually fix the kind of complex Windows problems that would baffle even Bill Gates

I could easily go on for pages about things I admire and love about her. For eighteen years I have been fortunate to be her husband. But there is also something else nearly unique with her. She is wholly unfazed by wealth or status.

For years I thought she must have been faking it. But no longer. It doesn’t make any difference how much you make or don’t make. She doesn’t care if you are white, black, Hispanic, a Jew or have skin in colored polka dots. Whether you are President of the United States or the attendant at the car wash she could care less. Blue blood or poor white trash has no effect on how she feels about you.

That’s not to say she has no standards. She cares very much about how people treat her and the world in general. If you give her the finger you are likely to get one back. If you are obnoxious in an opinion she does not share she’s not going to think highly of you. She is in a word: classless. But that is not to say that she has no class. She is beyond class.

My wife works on a help desk. She spends her days scurrying around the Software Productivity Consortium fixing assortments of PC woes. She is often amazed by how little these people know about computers. These are people with advanced degrees who write professional articles for magazines like IEEE Computer or teach classes in software engineering topics like the Capability Maturity Model. But large numbers of them cannot troubleshoot even a simple problem on their computers. She will sometimes come home from a hard day of work to complain about the moron of the day or praise someone who was really nice and sweet to her. It’s always on a first name basis. I rarely have any idea who these people are and where they are in the hierarchy of the organization.

“Well, I spent all day teaching Bob today how to use a Windows computer,” she told me one day. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that Bob was the CEO of her company. It wasn’t Mr. Smith or “the CEO”. He was just Bob: another human being inhabiting space and burning oxygen who happens to run around her building. People she meets and work with are always peers.

When I learn these things I am still surprised. After all these years I shouldn’t be. Perhaps because I am a federal employee I am more sensitive to rank and privilege than I should be. When I meet a fellow employee the first thing I was to know is “What GS are you?” But I don’t think this is unique to us civil servants. My friends out there in the private sector are just as sensitive as I am to those with power over them. Perhaps it is because they have learned from experience that status does matter. My wife has been through her share of mean and dysfunctional bosses too. But it never seems to affect how she feels about people above or below her in the chain of command.

I’d like to be this way. Sometimes I think of myself this way. But in reality I am not. I am old enough and wise enough to know that very often status or privilege is unearned. But I also know that (at least for me) status matters. And most of the time I wouldn’t mind having more status or power. I’d like to think if Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter walked down the street that I wouldn’t care enough to even look in their direction. But I’d look and likely gawk and I’d probably want to talk to them and get their autograph.

That’s not the case with my wife though. While she might admire Bill and Jimmy it wouldn’t make any difference to her. She wouldn’t go out of her way to meet them. But if Jimmy asked her to troubleshoot a computer problem she’d probably do it cheerfully. And then I’d hear, “You know I was with Jimmy today and you should have seen the Windows problem he had.” And I’d probably never know she was talking about an ex-president of the United States.

To my wife people are just folks.

Damn. I wish I were as egalitarian in spirit as I am in theory.

She must be an old soul indeed.

 

2 Responses to “Just Folks”

  1. 3:31 pm on July 1 2004, Weesprite said:

    Wow,Mark, what a wonderful picture you painted of Terri! This is a wonderful tribute. You are so right; you should talk about her this way more often. She’s never made a good impression on me, but now I almost feel like I know her. Thanks for “introducing” us! Sprite

  2. 12:39 pm on July 4 2004, Renee said:

    This is a really great post! :-)

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