Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Day I Learned That Dawkins is a Human Being

I am the only person in the world who has a photo of Richard Dawkins with a dog's head in his crotch. I'm fairly certain of this fact. In the home office of a University of Michigan professor, while all of the professor's friends and colleagues sipped wine in the living room and chatted about the state of education, the famed Richard Dawkins was greeted by a well-groomed standard poodle named Lucy. He pulled a cell phone out of his pants pocket and said "I want to take a picture of Lucy!" The clearly camera shy dog ignored Richard and went about his business sniffing me down.

It was kind of a surreal moment for me because I had just finished policing a line of hundreds of people all aching for just a moment with the celebrity scientist. That moment with Lucy the poodle was first time I had ever seen Richard Dawkins ignored. I later got to see him showing around the flashy tie his wife had apparently made him, slam a book about a creation museum down on the coffee table exclaiming "this is what pisses me off!" and eventually blending into the small crowd of college professors.

I remembered Andrei, one of the characters from Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and how he idolizes Napoleon. After a near-death experience on the battlefield, Andrei is surprised to find that, when he finally comes face-to-face with his hero, Napoleon is but a human. I wouldn't say that I had a near death experience, but I definitely hadn't been having the easiest week. I had in the same day witnessed a young woman being hit head-on by a pickup truck in the middle of the city and was followed and felt up at a crosswalk. Combined with my recent experiences in inner-city Detroit, these things made me go into my work at the Dawkins event with a different mindset than I expected to. This time last year, I was with the same people volunteering at the same event. I was starstruck by the presence of the scientist who convinced me to love biology. This time, I my interest was aroused by the ordinary person that I had the unique opportunity to spend time with.

In this movement, we want to be enlightenment leaders. Sometimes, even we fall into old patterns. We put our leaders on pedestals when we agree with them and damn them when we don't. We forget that we are all just humans. We forget that being human is not only a negative quality. It's the human element that makes this movement worth being a part of.

I walked home alone that night after the Dawkins talk. I wasn't floating the way I was last year after seeing Dawkins. I was thankful. I was thankful because I realized that everyone who was with me at the Dawkins event last year was with me that day, only something was very different about that day's event. Last year, I did not know the people I was working with. This year, I was happy to call them my friends. It's a feeling we tend to take for granted. At the moment I recognized it, there was nothing more I could possibly ask for.

Our SSA, October 2011, with Richard Dawkins

1 year later

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