I stumbled across an old picture of my uncle Barry the other day. He passed away about ten years ago, but he was so warm and larger than life, it’s amazing how just a glance at an old photograph brings back memories that were the same. He died of pancreatic cancer, but it doesn’t define his memory, if that makes sense.
We were in the hospital with him one day when he was having his chemotherapy done, and while you’d think the impressions that would last longest would be the intangibles – the sterile odor of the halls, the somber atmosphere, the sad attempts at making light – but they weren’t. The first thing I think of is a picture he had me take with my phone of him using one of those long, blue, plastic vomit bags propped up on his lap, inflated, to look like a big dick. (He dubbed them elephant condoms.) I left that day reeling from how fearless and strong he was. Tired, obviously, but undaunted amid a battle with cancer. And it only just occurred to me now, a decade later, that he might have been scared. That after we left and the door closed behind us, maybe he let out a sigh, or cried, or had to go back to wrestling with being scared, or whatever else.
He put on such a strong, happy, joking face, it’s been ten years without realizing there may have been more to it…
He was this big Jewish guy. Salt-and-pepper beard, big glasses, bigger, round belly, and a deep, breathy laugh that filled whatever space he was in (even outdoors). He had such a powerful charisma that was just at home toasting a room crowded with friends and family as it was holding a conversation with you as though you and he were the only ones that existed in that moment.
I could ramble for hours on all of his beautiful qualities, but I won’t hold you here for the day and a half that would take. Rather, there was one nugget of wisdom he offered when I was ten, just after he’d helped my mom find the house that became my childhood home. My dad had passed away the previous year, and Barry was gifting me a little gray toolbox, saying something to the effect of: “You’re man-of-the-house now, kid. And this is a pretty good place, but you gotta help your mom take care of it, alright? Here, take this. Every man needs a good set of tools. Every man.”
“Now,” he continued, “there’s something else to go with it, and that’s some advice. With it, and with these tools, there ain’t no problem that comes up you can’t tackle, alright? Just remember: ‘Brute force and ignorance, when applied in the proper proportion, will solve any problem.'”
The hilarious thing? He was right.
We all have a tendency to overthink, from time to time. We get into a problem, get into a jam, then get too far inside our own heads. It’s kind of like earthbending, for my fellow Avatar: The Last Airbender nerds out there, in so much that sometimes there IS no special trick or angle to getting through something. Sometimes what you need is just a goal and some good old-fashioned hardheadedness. In that, we set both Brute Force and Ignorance to High.
Other times, we might need a different approach, say approaching a personal matter with a friend. In those times, you need to be direct, blunt, firm, but selective. That’s keeping Brute Force high, but utilizing Ignorance a bit less.
Overthinking an itinerary or what should be a simple day to the beach? No real call for Brute Force, there, but crank Ignorance up so you can just fucking go where the wind takes you, rather than getting so caught up in details that do. Not. Matter.
The ratios and applications are as endless as life’s problems, but whatever the case, the formula holds true: “Brute Force and Ignorance, when applied in the proper proportion, will solve any problem.”
It’s also an excellent tool for keeping your head up and staying the course. Stuck on something? Multiple attempts failing one after the other? You KNOW all you have to do is adjust the formula and keep cranking.
Anyway, that’s about it for today. I hope this is something you can and will take with you. I think I have a resting place to go visit.
Go in peace, go in love, y’all.