I’m sure we’ve all had this experience: there are people we admire, maybe actors or musicians who brings art to life in a way that monumentally connects with us, but when we make the mistake of looking them up, they disappoint us. Maybe they cheated on their spouses, or committed tax evasion, or voted for the “legitimate rape” guy, or said something racist—or maybe they’re just dull people. Whatever the reason, we quietly close the tab and swear we won’t look up our heroes ever again.
Well, I just had an odd and unlooked-for case of this happen. You see, when I was a kid, I heard Ben Carson speak.
It was a national science competition where I was a contestant. I had never heard of him before I heard him speak, and to be honest, not being in the medical profession myself I’d forgotten his name until he came up in the news last week. The reason I remember him and his speech after so many years is that he was amazing.
He talked about his mother making him read, and what a difference it had made. He talked about how obsessed he had been with College Bowl in high school, in such a dorky way that we all fell in love with him—he had set his sights on being in it, diligently studying every category, becoming obsessed with classical music and opera so he would be able to answer those questions. His family only had the money for one application fee, and he chose Yale instead of Harvard, he said, because Yale had won the College Bowl that year and he didn’t, y’know, want to go to a school of losers! (We laughed. He was adorable and self-deprecating.) And then he matriculated at Yale and they canceled the College Bowl that year. We aww’ed in sympathy.
(He described using his knowledge of classical music and opera in a job interview many years later. That stuck with me for some reason.)
He moved on and talked about medicine and science. He asked us all to raise our hands if we remembered when our birthdays were, and in a burst of rapid technobabble listed the entire process that had just happened in our brains from the moment we heard his question. (And then he apologized to the poor stymied ASL translator.) He talked about the extraordinary science, the extraordinary emotions, that had gone into his surgery separating the conjoined twins. He excited us and moved us.
I heard him speak many years ago now, and he’s one of the few speakers I heard as a teenager that I even remember, let along recall with such excitement. I wish I’d kept that memory the way it was, a shining anecdote from childhood, a person whose life intersected mine ever so briefly with no other context.
Then Dr. Carson came up in the news recently. Apparently he’s a rising conservative star, and commentators listed enough biographical details that I thought, “Wait a minute . . . !”, looked him up, and realized he was the same person I’d heard speak so long ago as a kid.
You know, the fact that I disagree with him on . . . everything . . . is not the problem. I respect plenty of people I disagree with. Yes, the fact that he seems to have little clear understanding of any science outside his own—he doesn’t believe in evolution!—makes me want to cry . . . but then I read his remarks comparing homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia.
There’s a difference between disagreeing with me and saying—that. I can’t, guys. I just can’t.
How can someone be so inspiring and yet fail so entirely as a human being?