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Poto and Cabengo

Isn't it hard? Isn't it hard, being human? Having a past? Why can't we be recreated with every wakening? Renewed, reformed, regenerated. Resurrected. Why not? Because the past is gravity, that holds the universe together, and keeps us from flying away.

Consider, then, Poto and Cabengo. The world would have known them as Gracie and Ginny, if the world knew them at all. But it didn't, until it was, sadly, too late. Two little girls, identical twins, born in 1970, diagnosed early as retarded. Well, not actually diagnosed. The twins had suffered violent convulsions shortly after being born. A neurosurgeon told the father that it might be years before retardation could be ruled out. The father failed apparently to hear the nuances in this communication. "A man of his standing," he said, "knows what he's talking about." And so the girls, defective, were left to the ministrations of a severe Prussian grandmother who spoke no English. Largely ignored. They were not sent to school. They did not learn to speak English, neither German.

Idioglossia. A unique and private language, rarely but usually developed between twins. We would have to assume, twins who are severely neglected by adults. It is not "twin speech," fairly common with very young twins -- a hash of idioms and slurred common words. Idioglossia goes far beyond that; it is a kind of creole, a unique language, complete with grammar and syntax and neologisms.

The language of Poto and Cabengo was a mishmash of English and German, gleaned from the impersonal and other-directed speaking of highly neglectful parents, and the German grandmother. All of whom had given up on the retarded little girls. Who used prepositions as verbs, and had 30 different ways to say potato; "pintu" (pencil), "nieps" (knife), "ho-ahks" (orange), "toolaymeia" (spaghetti -- o sole mio). The girls were listening, you see. They spoke no English. They spoke only to each other. "Poto" (Grace), "Cabengo" (Virginia).

The fact that they were of at least average intelligence is neither here nor there. The early label determined their fate. Back in the late '70s, after the girls had been "discovered" and "treated," a speech pathologist observed, "It was obvious these kids hadn't had much exposure to anything. They wanted attention." No duh. They had never seen anyone climb a tree -- a picture of this rare phenomenon provoked bafflement. With attention, their IQs moved up 30 points, to 80. Still low. But it was still the 1970s.

After many months of intensive intervention, the girls were asked by a visitor if they still remembered their language. "Yes," one answered quickly. "No, you don't!" corrected the dad from the livingroom couch. "I don't know why you are lying about that! You live in a society, you've got to speak the language," he explained helpfully. "They don't want to be associated as dummies now."

The girls were born with normal intelligence. As of 2007, Cabengo worked on a supervised assembly line at a job training center; Poto cleaned tables and floors at a fast-food restaurant.

Yes. The past is gravity. It crushes us if we're over-burdened, and it keeps us from flying. We are not defined by our limits, however, for all that "define" shares its root with "finite". We are defined by what we make of ourselves, within our limits. Consider clay, rank and sodden, which becomes delicate porcelain. It exists within its limits. But its limits are vast.

So it is with you.  You can't be what you can't be.  But you can be what you can be.  You can be excellent. It's about achieving the excellence you're   willing to strive for.  Sensible exercise, sensible diet -- who would have thought that sensible, which demands effectiveness, could result in outright excellence.  Amazing.  The past is indeed gravity. But you can fly.

Be excellent.


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