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The not-so-rhetorical question

This above all: To thine own self be true,
and it must follow as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man. — Hamlet Act I, Scene iii

“Just who the hell do you think you are?” my high school choir director demanded. That was years ago, but it might not surprise you to hear my then seventeen-year-old response: “Is that a rhetorical question,” I queried, “or do you expect me to answer it?”

If my fate had been in question before, it was sealed then. For my insolence, I was suspended from all song and dance activities and relegated to the sidelines of my social world. I no longer remember what infraction I had committed, but I do know this: his question has floated over my head like a bad comic strip dialog balloon ever since.

One little question bobbing annoyingly after me,year after year: “Who am I?” The answer has come in myriad ways — many times with an answer I didn’t want to hear; often with a reassurance of who I thought I was all along.

If we’re open to it, our lives will bring us an abundance of opportunities for learning who we are — profound moments of such thorough self-awareness that our responses and actions are swift and sure. String enough of such moments together and one day we wake up more philosophical than Popeye — we yam what we yam and are possessed of all the confidence and contentment that goes along with not just knowing who we are but believing in who we are.

Love is our best shot at answering these questions. It’s our best shot at becoming better than we thought ourselves capable of being. The tragedy is that too often love – marriage – sex – romance — brings out the liar in us. We lie to the ones we love, but more importantly, we lie to ourselves about the people we love. We tell ourselves they can’t handle the truth. We tell ourselves we know what’s best for them. We tell ourselves our little lies don’t matter, that they don’t chip away at the very core of who we are – whether the lies are ever found out or not.

Whether we’re lying about how good the sex was, how much we spent on clothes, how late we stayed out with the boys on a business trip, or more serious matters such as whether we cheat, whether we still love, whether we are afraid – a liar cannot hope to ever be loved. People may love the pretense of who you are, but they won’t love the real you.

And you’ll know it. And that knowledge will cast a pall of insecurity across your life like a terminally wet blanket, dousing every ember of love that could have burned white-hot instead.

We all want to believe we are worthy of being loved just as we are – warts and all – but that requires telling the truth about those warts.

Of course, just when you think you’ve got a solid handle on who you are, the universe will throw you a curve ball, challenging your concept of self in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

And maybe that’s okay.

Because really, should knowing who we are ever stop us from striving to learn who we might yet still be?

Posted on November 22nd, 2008Comments RSS Feed

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