A visiting columnist is Andrew's excuse for taking a break from the work part of a sixth-grader's day in Coppell Middle School West (math, English -- the school stuff) and savoring anticipation of the good parts, such as lunch, baseball and lacrosse practice. He is dressed conservatively, even formally, as his age cohort understands such matters: red T-shirt reaching almost to his knees, blue shorts that aren't short -- they reach below his knees, toward his white sneakers.
Nowadays, he says, ``I sometimes hold the tics in when I'm batting.'' Extreme concentration also helps Mike Johnston, a Pittsburgh Pirates reliever, contain his Tourette symptoms: ``I'll sometimes stare at something until my eyes water.'' Johnston, who was awakened in a Chicago hotel on an off-day by the thoughtless columnist, chats on the phone with Andrew, who is asking important questions, such as: ``Have you ever pitched to A-Rod?'' Johnston gets important information from Andrew: cap and jersey sizes. Pirates gear is on the way.
Last year, Andrew came close to exhaustion from dread of teachers' incomprehension and from some children's cruelty. This year, Andrew's teachers and classmates are better informed. What causes his odd behavior may have caused similar behavior by some high-achievers -- probably Samuel Johnson, perhaps Mozart. Even more impressive, Jim Eisenreich, formerly of the Twins, Royals, Phillies, Marlins and Dodgers, has Tourette syndrome, as does Tim Howard, current goalie for Manchester United soccer club, the world's most famous sports team.
The mind-body dichotomy is a perennial puzzlement for philosophers. Most people say, ``I have a body.'' Perhaps we should say, ``I am a body.'' People who say the latter mean that the mind, the soul -- whatever we call the basis of individual identity -- is a ``ghost in the machine,'' a mysterious emanation of our physicality. They may be right. But were Andrew given to paddling around in deep philosophic water -- if he were, he would not be your basic boy -- he might reply:
``No way. Wisdom is encoded in our common language. We all have, to some extent, a complex, sometimes adversarial, relationship with our physical selves. And I more than most people know that it is correct to say 'I have a body.' There is my body, and then there is me, trying to make it behave.''
Let the philosophers contend about the mind-body distinction. If you think Andrew has it wrong, spend a day in his sneakers.
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