“How dreary to be somebody!”

Dear President Trump,

I got back yesterday from DC where I was helping review grants for NIAAA. One of the highlights of these trips is spending time with older scientists who are done trying to make a name for themselves and are doing this to give back and contribute their hard won wisdom to the process. I had lunch with one of them on Tuesday and we were talking about the difference between striving to be a great figure and choosing instead to be a good person. We were talking about my mentor and how in mental health and behavioral health he is actually a great figure but that he has always seemed driven by the desire to benefit others rather than to make a splashy name for himself. In other words, at the core, he is a good person first and foremost. What we didn’t talk about is how for most of us mere mortals, greatness is not in our grasp. We may be able to achieve some measure of recognition and mini-fame in a small circle such that we are outstanding in our field, but when the desire for recognition is driving the bus, most of us are out standing in our fields pretty much alone. So if we are honest with ourselves, there’s probably a lot more in it for us if we let go of the striving and ego and simply focus on being good and doing good work; it’s likely to be less frustrating and lonely and we will feel less of a need to defend ourselves and our territory.

I learned this morning that Tracy K. Smith is going to be our next poet laureate and learned from her about Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” I found the text of the poem and it goes like this:

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

I so appreciate when the universe does this for me, when I am thinking hard about something and then stumble upon a gem that crystallizes it for me. The proverbial field is lonely but the admiring bog is oppressive and lonely. You remind me of the frog but I’m holding out hope you will tire of living for the empty admiration of the bog and will turn your heart to goodness.

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May your life unfold and intersect peacefully.

Tracy Simpson

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