“There is no great genius without some touch of madness.”
A horrific story of survival came out of last week’s Camp Fire. The Chronicle covered the ordeal of Greg Woodcox, who narrowly escaped with his life after flames engulfed the small town of Paradise. He was attempting to leave in his truck and had warned neighbors that the fire was upon them. He actually saw some of them die in the flames
before he started to flee. One thing saved him. Instead of sticking with the idea of driving, he saw a fox run across the road and down an embankment. Woodcox followed and hid in a stream, where he waited for 45 minutes as the flames passed over him.
Later, when he realized he had survived, he found his truck intact, motor running, with his two dogs inside. He then drove around recording the carnage and his camera lens recorded the corpses of people who had perished. His nephew published in on YouTube, which understandably enraged people in the community. One person commented, “You don’t need to show people’s remains in the middle of such a horrible tragedy.”
The article goes on to state that Woodcox is a self-described “mountain person,” who lives mostly out of his green Jeep. He admitted to spending time incarcerated in state prison “for drugs and other charges. He said he is bipolar and “high strung,” speaking in fragmented bursts. On Saturday, he said, he had a nervous breakdown after processing what he’d been through.”
What strikes me is his presence of mind to think differently when his life was on the line. There are so many stories of people trying to escape the fire by driving, choosing to sit for minutes and hours in stalled traffic. Many were found dead in those same cars. Woodcox the “mountain person” instead saw a fox run and knew to follow him down the embankment where there may be water. Did he later make a mistake in judgment by allowing his video of dead neighbors to be posted online? Of course. He is a person who suffers from mental illness and lives in his car. He clearly processes the world differently from most people. But the same attributes that allowed him to survive when others died might be the same ones that led him to the live he lives, isolated, in those mountains.
As a coach I see similar patterns when a player shows exceptional skill on the ball. They can dribble four opponents and then won’t show up for the big game. Or they will get in a needless argument with a teammate. Sometimes, being “clever” or “brilliant” is just to see the world differently from most people. This person can often be a tortured soul who excels at one thing and fails at many others. In football their names are legion: Garrincha, Gerd Muller, George Best. Eric Cantona is revered for his talent but was suspended for six months after attacking a fan in the stands. Ronaldinho is said to be facing jail time for owing £1.75 million with just £5 in his account. Diego Maradona is a slow-motion train wreck. But they all gave us moments of unparalleled brilliance on the pitch.
We tend to admire the person who sees what we cannot, but often that vision comes with blindness and disability in other basic areas. Hence the legend of the “tortured genius” who struggles through life.
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.”