I crept down the stairs as quietly as I could. I’ve found, from such ventures as a child, that if you place your weight on the edge of the step just where it meets the wall, rather than in the middle, it is less likely to creak. Also, by spending as little time as possible bearing weight on each step, any step that did creak, would do so for only a short time. If I extended this thinking to its logical extreme, it seemed as if I could run down the stairs floating above them silently like a basilisk or Jesus lizard which can almost miraculously run across the surface of a lake.
I was making my way downstairs because I was inspired. I had a thought in my head which I needed to make permanent before it was lost. Already, its parts were starting to drift apart like the fragments of a ship destroyed at sea. I had this thought in my head and I needed to get downstairs as quickly as possible. But it was late. Actually, it was early—about five O’clock in the morning—and the whole house was asleep.
Yehuda Block once kicked me in the nuts on the dining hall porch in summer camp when I was 12. He had these huge shoes we used to call his clonkers or Herman Munster shoes. They were unusually large for the shoes of a 12-year-old. I was doubled over in pain rolling about in the grass next to the dining hall when Avi Lewis came rushing to my aide. Avi slid into the patch of grass by my side, leaned over me and, placing a hand firmly on my shoulder said, “David, you’re a ninja. You can take the pain.”
We were 12. This was an acceptable thing to say to someone whose testicles had just been forced back into his abdomen. It was a normal thing to say at the time, because as far as we were both concerned, I was a ninja. I, therefore, could take the pain. That summer, we had all decided that, more than anything else, we had wanted to be ninjas. I don’t think any of us knew what a ninja was, certainly not on any historically accurate level. Clearly we knew nothing of 15th century feudal Japan, and I’m sure we didn’t want to assassinate anyone. We didn’t even want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We were a bunch of jewish kids. We once dumped the contents of Ari Kramer’s cubby, and still had not gotten over the guilt. We just wanted to be able to run around our living rooms silently, throw a chinese star or two, scale a glass wall, and definitely wear lots of black–which was always regarded as the coolest color to wear. Perhaps when we were old enough, we would be daring and buy a pair of nunchucks at the flea market. By the middle of the summer, we had spent so much time running around dressed in black pajama pants, black t-shirts, with black socks on our hands, that we now considered ourselves full-fledged ninjas. We had training sessions and performed secret rites of passage which usually involved obtaining junk food from the counselor’s lounge late at night. We could, we felt, take the pain.
It turned out, I really couldn’t take the pain. Moreover, the combination of black pajama pants and yin-yang boxer shorts offered little in the way of gonadal protection. In all, I spent about an hour there in the grass, but not because I was in pain for an hour. The pain, excruciating as it was, only lasted about 5 minutes. I spent the resr o fthe time there waiting for my eyes to dry and for that “just-been-crying” look to disappear from my face. I was embarrassed to return to my friends who would know that clearly, I was not a ninja after all. While it is likely that ninjas would have worn some sort of protective cup, one thing we all knew, is that ninjas definitely never cried.
Now, all grown up, 21 years later, I am still not a ninja. The first step I took down the stairs at 5 O’clock in the morning made a horrible moaning sound which seemed to last forever. I was too chicken to quickly move onto the bext step and run down the remaining stairs like a basilisk. Instead, I cringed as I slowly made my way down to the basement creating what must have sounded like a pod of dolphins playing on Captain Nemo’s pipe organ. I’m sure the whole house woke up. My nephew did. He caught me halfway down the stairs and asked, “What are you doing?”
What was I doing? I’m 33 years old, and still, I’m pretending to be a ninja. My thoughts, as I descended the stairs, were not, “I need to be quiet so I don’t wake up my wife and 15-month-old son.” My thoughts were, “David, you’re a ninja. You can float down these stairs like a basilisk.” Had I not learned a thing in life? Had I not progressed at all? What was that thought I was rushing to write down? “Damn!”
The door to the computer room creaked loudly when I opened it, and again when when I closed it. The latch clicked with a thunderous clap. I turned on the lights and found that there was no chair in front of the computer. Should I stand the whole time? No. I went back upstairs to get a chair. The combined weight of myself and the chair made it sound like a herd of buffalo was descending into the basement. Any basilisk unlucky enough to be caught on the steps would have been squashed underfoot. This was a disaster.
What remained of my original thought—the flotsam of my early morning breakthrough—had deteriorated to a lone piece of floating mast to which I clung for my life. It had something to do with lying awake in bed thinking of why I did or didn’t do something for some patient I had seen the day before. I wondered if all the people I admire do the same thing. Do the even-tempered geniuses of whom I find myself in awe, lay awake at night thinking about the things they did that day? Or do they just fall asleep and never really think about the past? Does everything they do just come out right the first time? Do they make deliberate changes in their lives?
It seems that every day I am trying deliberately to change who I am. I’ll say to myself, slowly and clearly in my mind, “today I am going to be more …” I make lists and write notes. I keep records and take pictures. I lay awake at night thinking of how I can become a better person. But I am not that person.
I am not a ninja. Never was. It’s not that ninjas don’t exist. The kind of ninja I’ve always wanted to be didn’t climb walls or disappear in broad daylight. He learned something and never forgot it. He thought of new solutions to old problems and wrote them down before he forgot them. He thought before he spoke. He never got lazy. He always kept his cool. People like Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton—they were ninjas. Maybe there’s still time.