The girl with peacock eyes didn’t go to ordinary school – she went to extraordinary school.
There are all kinds of extraordinary gifts out there. Most people just hide theirs. If you’re too bright, you don’t want to be regarded a nerd or impractical or boring. If you’re too creative, you don’t want to be characterized as a potential economic failure. Maybe you just see the world in a slightly different way. But the majority punishes those who don’t see it in the majority way. Extraordinary perception is extraordinarily costly. We like amazing physical abilities, if they can be channeled into something financially rewarding like sports or music – one of the ‘ordinary’ venues for extraordinary talent. We’re less fond of extraordinary anything that isn’t practical in a business context.
If your talent also requires a *context* that’s extraordinary, that’s when you’re effectively screwed. You either have to create it yourself, often with no support, or you have to find your X-men, your fellow mutants. You look at some of the people who went off on the world – who just lost it, and started going on a killing spree, or who ripped off millions of dollars, and you’ll find among them some amazing abilities. What if they simply looked around at the lack of welcome, the lack of embrace, and shrugged? Their form of shrugging wasn’t giving up or packing up and moving to an island, like Ayn Rand’s people – instead they became con men and terrorists. I know, I know – it’s highly unpopular to say anything positive about terrorists. But one thing is certain – most of them are smarter than the people sitting in lawn chairs and recommending we bomb the villages of completely unrelated countries in order to discourage them.
Imagine if instead of letting the neighborhood kids – and worse, the teachers – try to mold the truly gifted into their version of what’s acceptable, there were Wonka-like places for over the top amazing kids to go and be among people who encouraged them to explore their talents?
Well that’s what happened to Jill Summerfield – “Summer Fiend” to the neighborhood kids, and “disruptive influence” to her school’s administration. See, Jill had an unusual set of physical features that contributed to her a unique visual and cognitive perspective. She had 182 eyes. That’s right – as many eyes as you find on a peacock’s feathers – only these weren’t merely decorative and they probably do not increase her chances to mate successfully.
As an aside, there are lots of decent teachers out there. It’s a cardinal sin to criticize a teacher in this culture – it’s like spitting on the Pope in Italy. But a decent teacher also requires a context, and sometimes either the context sets the tone or else she’s really only equipped to be decent as long as the familiar context is upheld. Extraordinary people tend to push against an ordinary environment, just to be able to breathe. They ask questions that aren’t expected. Not just insightful ‘wow’ questions – the kind every bored academic babysitter is waiting for, but annoying WTF? questions. They get their parents called in all the time, being asked to explain themselves for siring unholy offspring. They get sent home, get into fights, get marks against them for being ”uncooperative’ or even stupid. Someone extraordinary once said, “If you don’t believe that such things can happen, we aren’t living in the same world and there is no point in your reading any more of this.” That applies to this. We’re not talking about the kids whose parents drive around with bumper stickers lauding their grades or the honor roll – the reason we’ve all seen that is there’s so many of them – but we mean rather the truly extraordinary.
So, Jill “WTF” Summerfield, the girl with the peacock eyes. She went to a place the name of which can’t be shared here, because you don’t find them, they find you. I know – sounds very X-men, right? Because it is. Not the X-men exactly, but it’s very hush hush, and very unusual. It’s the kind of place kids like Jill sit in their rooms and wish existed before they break down crying and ask “why was I born like this” and learn to be ashamed of their fantastic qualities.
Jill’s parents got a letter saying there’d be a visit. The letter pointed to a web site that had little or no information on it, just a blurb about the utter exclusivity of the academy, and some cursory descriptions of the educational methodology which, conveniently, could be interpreted in almost any way one wished. The letter, which was followed up by the promised visit, did not ask – it told – the date and time.
The two people who showed up seemed ordinary enough. They were a man and a woman dressed in business suits. After an obligatory signing of non-disclosure agreements by Jill’s parents, the visitors cut to the chase and asked to immediately interview Jill Summerfield. Jill’s father agreed and her mother didn’t. They went out of the room and came back agreed to let it happen as long as they were present, which was accepted.
The questions Jill was asked cannot be shared here, either. The secrecy is bound to be frustrating – that’s understandable. So, what then is the point? Simply this: the questions that were *not* asked. Jill was not asked for transcripts or teacher evaluations or references or parent information. She was not asked whether she liked school or what adjectives her friends would apply to her. She was not asked where she saw herself in 10 years, to describe an obstacle in her life, to explain her positive contributions, or what she’d take to a desert island. She was not asked if she had ever felt depressed or alienated or sometimes wished she could be more ordinary. All of that was either assumed or deemed unimportant.
The one question that can be mentioned – she was asked if she’d like to go to a place where extraordinary was welcome. To this, she answered an urgent and definitive ‘yes’.
When the interview was over, Jill was advised that a decision would be imminent. The pair of interviewers left, and a full day passed, but a single day only. Jill received a phone call, advising her of acceptance, including a full tuition scholarship. Start time was not based on academic year, so she could begin immediately, not having to wait for her current school semester to end. In all respects it was ideal. The only issue was parent approval.
Mr. and Mrs. Summerfield disagreed with each other again – this time her father voicing concerns – but, after talking it out, they decided mutually that it was better for Jill to be where people really seemed to want her and were offering her opportunity. After all, you’re never going to have a normal life when you’re as extraordinary as Jill. Maybe if she’d had a quiet difference that you could only see if you look into her mind, then she could be asked all her life to modify her behavior to seem more normal. With it being an obvious physical difference, there was almost, being fair but candid, some relief that she was leaving.
So Jill packed, the parents made some adjustments to pick up her living expenses, and off Jill went. That is the last you will have heard of her as a child. Like many such children – those with fantastic capabilities – she could find her way only in a conducive environment. Without that, she would not have made sense of her own life until well into adulthood, and perhaps it would have required her whole life to find it, thus wasting her terrific potential entirely on self-discovery. Jill was plucked like a diamond from amidst the ordinary and placed in a more conducive setting.
We could say also that she was never seen or heard from again, but that would sound scary. It would make a kind of sense, though. After all, have you ever heard of a place like the extraordinary school? Truly? You’d think, if you really wanted to know what happened to Jill, that she must have left this planet, entered another dimension or gone off with aliens. You’d think that because you know there is no place on earth that would welcome a girl with peacock eyes, if you’re being honest. There are some fascinating camps and groups and programs, but none that wouldn’t treat Jill like a freak. The reason you don’t know what happened to her is, perhaps, you don’t want to. It’s there, in your mind, if you reach for it.
In the meantime, there is someone else you know, someone in your own family or school or neighborhood, and they’re like Jill. They have ‘superpowers’, and they’re wondering why they were born that way, and need an alternative to the doomed attempt at merely blending in. They need a context that continually rewards the marvelous and unique and does not cater to the banal, even with its honor roll. The extraordinary school is, sad to say, full to capacity.
There are some things you can do. This comes from a rare pamphlet of the extraordinary school. You can become that child’s friend. They really need friends – but only if you’re truly committed to the honor involved in friendship. They need friends that won’t leave. You can defend him or her, against all those comments and questions that we would find insulting if we didn’t have peacock eyes. They hurt even worse, when you do. Such a person needs defending.
You can, practically, teach them how to pass in the world, as one of us, even if they’re not. You cannot insist that really, deep down, they’re just a hair off – it’s not true – they’re extraordinary – practically alien – they have peacock eyes, and you have to be one of the people who truly acknowledges it. If you want to be helpful, that is. And then you have to help them see how to make it anyway, among people – teach them the techniques. They need practice in this.
Lastly, you can help them by listening to their interests and thoughts, endlessly. Listen, and let them tell you. They need to tell someone. They need someone to take it seriously, and really hear them, not patronize them with words like “well, that’s special” or “you’re so bright, you have so much potential”. They already *know* that. They’re painfully aware of how bright they are, every day, and also what it costs them. And telling someone they have potential all the time is saying that they aren’t doing or saying anything of value *right now*. It means you’re not really there with them, not really taking them seriously – you’re only offering to take them seriously *some day* when they impress us with something commercially viable. They need you to be the extraordinary context for them, the place that takes it all seriously, for real, in this moment, at this time, while they’re struggling to live among us in all other respects. Can you do that?
One day, I’ll tell you what happened to Jill. She’s fine. She’s better than fine. She’s learning not to regret being born different. You will see her, not on some celebrity talk show, and not dancing with the stars. She will not work for NASA or grow up to teach other extraordinary kids. She’s got her own way of being in the world that she’s in the process of discovering. This is the last you will hear about her for a while. Mom, Dad – I love you and miss you. Don’t worry. And thank you – thank you for letting me change my life. Sincerely.