I was worried, now that I’m single, about meeting new people and having to explain myself.
I thought it would be hard to explain my divorce, my children, my relationships, my sexual orientation, and my philosophy of life. Then I realized that, even if my own life seems complicated, we all require explanation no matter who or what we are. Otherwise, how will anyone we care about really get to know us and understand us and vice versa?
So the quick answer is, yes, I do have to explain myself — and so do you if you want to be known and understood.
Remember how Shakespeare said, “Know thyself and to thine own self be true?” The old bard was onto something. . .
Assuming I’m right, and we do have to explain ourselves, how will we do it if we don’t know ourselves? Knowing ourselves, naturally, is somewhat easier said than done.
I had an experience about 16 years ago, not long after my daughter died, that ended up changing my world view. I was sitting in my home office, looking out the window, crying. I was in a lot of pain, thinking about how I’d lost such a pure, radiant, innocent, and beautiful child. It came to me suddenly that I, too, had once been a pure, radiant, innocent, and beautiful child — and so has everyone else. In fact, I realized, we never stop having within us that purity, radiance, innocence, and beauty. It is our true self.
This I find difficult to remember and easy to forget. It was, at the time, a revelation to me, but now that transcendent understanding has been reduced to knowledge and memory. I wish I could tell you that, right now, I can feel the ecstasy of our true nature, but I can’t. I’m typing away, feeling kind of tired and anxious about how my work day will go, and I definitely do not feel pure, radiant, innocent, and beautiful. Still, having had that glimpse of what I consider a higher truth of who I am and who we are is fortifying.
As just hinted, the truth of who we are is is not usually how we live. Whenever I talk about human beings as expressions of beauty, radiance, innocence, and purity, the occasional person agrees with me but mostly I get strong reactions ranging from skepticism to hints that I am kind of dumb, to even a kind of offended anger.
Yes, we do grow up, and life hands us many difficulties and injustices, and most of us make poor and hurtful choices along with good, sweet, and neutral ones, but above all and always we remain at heart and soul beautiful, radiant, pure, and innocent — a kind of light. Knowledge of ourselves and everyone as pure, radiant, innocent, and beautiful is an antidote to the fear, doubt, and insecurity that we often feel as we negotiate our way through life.
At another level, we are individual expressions of that fundamental light and as a result some of us prefer to wear flannel shirts and biker boots while some of prefer little black dresses or shorts and a tee shirt. I mention these preferences as the merest hint of the infinite ways humans are expressed biologically, culturally, linguistically, and individually.
What happens, and it even starts to happen before birth, is that we are objectified and placed into categories. We quickly become male and female, white or brown, and then we become quick or slow, smart or dumb, pretty or not, and, of course, countless other things.
The world not only tells us what to be, but it assigns a value to each of those categories and qualities. Few us remember that we are not all of those better and worse things, but that we are pure, radiant, innocent, and beautiful. We believe what we are told about ourselves so much so that we also tell others what they are.
And yet. Some of us suspect otherwise and some of us actively rebel and some of us find, for whatever reason, that the categories and values laid out for us don’t fit so we don’t have a choice but to find another way. Some of us sense within ourselves something precious that wants to be expressed, but we sense it in rather the same way a seed sprouts. Who knows, exactly, what forces and conditions cause a seed to sprout — or not — at any precise moment?
We are gifted with consciousness. We are able to remember the beautiful purity that characterizes who we are, but we do need some sort of inspiration — such as the epiphany I had so many years ago while thinking of my daughter — and then we have to apply ourselves to remembering. Like I said, this kind of truth is easy to forget and hard to remember, especially if you are weighed down with skepticism or, worse, cynicism.
Individual expression and preferences are why we have to explain ourselves — and first know ourselves. Taking the example of the flannel shirt versus the little black dress, it’s important to know what you like, the nature of what you are expressing, and why you are expressing it. It’s important to be real about where you stand in society, and even who might hate you and why, along with the best places to seek love and comfort.
By knowing yourself thoroughly, openly, and lovingly, you can share information about yourself with others, and that becomes the basis for the best kinds of relationships. Your real ground will come from knowing that even things like race and sexual orientation, and especially things like what you like to wear or how much money you make, are superficial expressions of who you are.
P.S. As a #crazybeautiful bonus, this week I am able to share some gorgeous music from an old friend from high school, Ian Rashkin. I think these tunes, composed by Ian, capture the wonder and melancholy of trying to be who we are. Enjoy a cup of tea and a listen:
Two Works for Solo Violin by Ian Rashkin
Sea Poem. Performed by J.J. Jang.
Melodrama No. 1. Performed by J.J. Jang.