That’s generally not a good phrase, is it? “People like you,” I mean. Implying, as it does, people not like me. If someone starts a sentence with “People like you,” odds are it won’t end well. It also tends to pick out one characteristic of an individual and generalize it to a group, which is rarely useful and even more rarely a reflection of real-world conditions.
So today, after my first week of classes, when I was waiting in line at CVS to buy milk, I had a conversation that subverted my expectations on so many levels. An older man was waiting in line ahead of me — not older older, but older than I am — and there was one girl at the register for about six of us in line. The man must have noticed that I was wearing my typical it’s-Friday-I-don’t-care college shirt, because he asked me how I was enjoying school.
It’s great, I said, because honestly, I just wanted to buy milk, go home, have some lunch, and read Blue Mars (I know, it’s Friday, but it’s a good book.)
Then he asked me if I was a freshman, which was kind of weird, but again, the Friday-I-don’t-care-buying-milk thing was not so grown-up looking. Still, it was enough to make me glance toward the self-checkout machines, half of which were nonfunctional.
So I told him I was a senior, and he said that was good. I agreed. The Yeah, one more year response has become instinct with me anyway.
Then he asked me what my major was, which was at least a more natural progression of the conversation. I told him neuroscience, and he said, That’s good, curing diseases. I couldn’t help but smile then, but I didn’t bother contradicting him or clarifying, because, when it comes to biology, it’s all interconnected, anyway.
Then, the kicker: My daughter beat leukemia because of people like you.
I managed to stammer out some sort of congratulations and expression of admiration at his daughter’s accomplishment, or something, probably. I think. It was difficult.
Because what I really wanted to say was this: It couldn’t have been people like me. People like me take nothing seriously, and will ignore the real world in favor of a good book, and drink coffee way too late in the evening. People like me get the giggles anytime someone else is being particularly Serious-with-a-capital-S. If the Earth depends on people like me, then, sir, we are in trouble. People like me call other people “sir” in mental dialogue because they have watched too much military sci fi and read too much George R.R. Martin. People like me would rather listen to TED talks and bake banana bread than do real work. People like me are a mess.
But upon further reflection, I guess that’s the human condition — not the GRRM or the banana bread in particular, but being a mess in general. There are probably exceptions — astronauts, Steven Moffat, I mean, people who really have things together. But mostly, people like me are the ones that get people through leukemia, and build rockets, and heroically contend with befuddled CVS customers on a Friday afternoon. People like me do cure diseases, after all — and so, therefore, do people like you.