Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Two Percent Man

A year ago I stood outside a cyclone fence that surrounded a school where I had worked for 19 years. I had taught in many of its classrooms, walked every one of its hallways, and overseen gifted and testing programs from its main office. The window to my old office was bare. All of the windows in the front of this 1920s structure were ripped out. It was being torn down. A spanking new, three level, geothermal-efficient structure had been erected next to it, and a wrecking machine had been tearing it apart. The destruction began from the rear of the building where a massive machine had been taking enormous bites out of its back. Bricks and plaster and blackboards had been dumped from the maw of the wrecking machine into dump trucks and hauled away. The only part of the building left was the stone front, with all of its windows gone. Nether Providence School, which became Strath Haven Middle School when I joined it in 1991, was now blinded.

I stood outside the protective demolition fence, with my fingers laced through its links, and stared up at the face of the 80 year old building. I shivered. It was spring and the weather was warm. And yet, I was chilled. The hairs on the back of my neck and my arms were standing straight up. There was no one else there with me. A short distance behind me was the main office of the new building, brimming with people and energy and life. But, what I was feeling was deep, dark sadness. It was not my own sadness; it was coming from the spaces where the windows had been. The life that had been clinging to the elder school was flowing out, and I could feel that ebbing loss as distinctly as I could feel the sun on my face.

It took some time for the goosebumps to leave my arms that day. Last week, I revisited the new school for the first time since I retired from the school district 10 months ago. There is now a blacktop parking lot where the old building sat. I felt nothing in the parking lot. The 80 year old building is dead.

I know that this sounds peculiar to you. A person can't feel things coming from a building. I can. And it isn't just buildings. After Kira, my rough coated collie, died, I felt her for five months by my back door. Kira used to stand by our back door when she wanted to go out into our fenced yard. She never scratched the door or whined. She simply stood there with her long nose touching the door until I felt her in some other part of the house. I used to yell, "I'm busy, Kira, you'll have to wait a minute till I get there." The family would then hear her bony elbows hit the kitchen floor when she would flop down in impatience.

In my first house, I saw a woman in the hallway when there was no one there, and twice felt a threatening presence in our bedroom. At one point, the presence hovered so close to my face that the muscles in my jaw froze up when I tried to call out. When I researched the house, I discovered that no one lived there longer than three years. I moved out, almost three years to the day, but I had nightmares for years about that house.

Not too many centuries ago, I might have been labeled a warlock and burned or stoned by the authorities. I never understood how or why I was able to feel and know the things that I could. And then  in the early 1980s, the counselors at Upper Darby High School, where I was teaching, thought it would be interesting for the 260 staff members to take the Myers Briggs Personality Test. After all the testing occurred, we would be grouped by our personality types, so that we could see who was like us and who experienced the world quite differently.

I was called to a counselor's office the day before the results were presented.

"Did I do something wrong?" I asked. I had never taken a test like this and figured I must have goofed up somehow.

"No," the counselor said. "I just wanted to give you a heads-up so that you're not surprised tomorrow when the groups are asked to come together."

 She paused and looked at me closely.

"Your personality results indicate INFJ. That stands for introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging."

"OK, "I said. "Is that bad?"

"Not good or bad, " she said cautiously. "Just a bit.... different, is all."

"How different?"

"There are only two percent of the population who indicate this personality type," she said. "And here at the high school, there is only one other person. You will have a group of two tomorrow when the 260 staff are divided up."

I was not really surprised. I had always felt a sense of being apart from the general population. I was introverted all my life and managed to teach by clothing myself in the role of a teacher. Although I avoided loud crowds, I had strong empathy for individual people. My intuition was scary accurate, and I often knew when students and fellow staff members were sick before they realized it. I craved order and harmony around me, yet was always creating a rich inner world. Thinking and silence were (and are) my friends.

What I didn't know was that INFJs often have psychic sensitivity and that this can extend to people, things and events. Premonitions, foreknowledge, and uncanny communication skills are not uncommon. Real and fictional characters who have displayed an INFJ personality type are: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, Garry Trudeau, Nelson Mandela, Mahatema Gandhi, The Tin Man, Luke Skywalker, and Yoda.

It feels a tad lonely to only have two percent of all humans on the planet know the world as I do. I have learned, when I see and feel things, that it's best to keep them to myself. People will only smile or roll their eyes. And yet, it was Carl Jung who said, "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."

Copyright (c) 2011 by James Hugh Comey


  1. Hmmmm...all very interesting. Could you relate to the one other person who was also INFJ?

  2. And now the ad's next to your blog are advertising for free psychic readings :)

  3. Right now the ad is for Triumph motorcycles. And yet, I haven't mentioned that I ride Triumph motorcycles in any blog so far. I think that we are now entering The Twilight Zone.