On a recent trip to the North East, my wife and I discovered what we termed “The Law of Two.” There are two kinds of luggage on flights out of Miami: carry-on and lost. There are two kinds of GPS devices: those that work and those in our car. There are two kinds of bathrooms in Massachusetts: those that “you can’t get there from here” and those that are at the hotel which we’d better find soon because there is only one kind of air travel out of Miami: delayed.
So I was in a particularly pleasant mood as we approached our destination, the town of Lowell, MA. Samuel Johnson may have defined second marriage as “the triumph of hope over experience,” but if I could find Sam’s house, I was going to offer him a piece of my mind. After I asked to use his bathroom.
“Turn left at the second light after you exit the Interstate in the right lane,” my wife said.
“How can you possibly know that?”
Patti was silent, in a thoughtful way I hoped, then went on: “Well. If you were designing a city, isn’t that where you’d put downtown?”
“If I were designing a city, I wouldn’t put it so close to this dark side of the moon through which we are now driving and I would darn sure design it with more bathrooms.”
“Now turn left again, go down about a mile and turn right. The hotel will likely be up there on the left.”
I was stupefied. “You’ve never been to this town before either. What makes you think the hotel will be where you think it is? We don’t have a GPS.”
My wife just rolled her eyes.
In the same way that I would roll my eyes–if I were the eye rolling type–when I tried to explain to my wife how to multiply two-digit numbers together in your head. “Start with the ones digit,” I began.
“Why would anyone want to do that?” She interrupted. “There are calculators everywhere.”
“But what if you didn’t have a calculator?” I insisted. “What if you were on a deserted island and you didn’t have a calculator? What then?”
“If you were on a deserted island then why in the world would you need to multiply two-digit numbers together?”
Here’s what else my wife can do: she can see through walls. Not like Superman, but like a building contractor. She knows where the electrical outlets are in a room she’s never been in. She knows what’s on the other side of a dark window. She can tell which wall in your house is a supporting wall even if she’s never been in your house before. She can do anything spatial. And if she’s ever been somewhere before–ever–she can take you back to that place from anywhere on the Planet Earth. “Turn up there,” she’ll say. And she’s always right.
Although interestingly, she can’t tell you the name of the street where you need to turn.
“Southern Directions” she calls them. “Count past the 17th phone pole where the church used to be that burned down then turn by that place where my cousin met her mother-in-law.”
I can do none of those things. I am not spatial. I can get lost in my own house. I can easily get lost going places I’ve been to a dozen times before. I can’t find anything.
“Please pass the butter,” my wife says.
“My pleasure, Dear. Where is the butter?”
“There. By your elbow. If it was a snake, you’d be dead.”
What I can do, of course, is multiply two-digit numbers together in my head.
And what we all need to do is to be grateful for the cognitive gifts that we have, work extra special hard on compensating for those gifts that we don’t have, and be sensitive to those folks whose gifts are different from our own.