Great Pretenders

What if we could all be ourselves—truly ourselves—not who we try to be for others, or even who we pretend we are in our own minds?

One of my favorite bloggers, Gretchen Rubin, has a series of personal commandments that she believes make her happier when she obeys them.  Her first is “Be Gretchen.”  On the surface, this may seem simplistic or trite.  But I think she’s really onto something, something that most of us miss from day to day.

She talks about how important it is to recognize ourselves for who we truly are—not who we wish we were.  She talks about the grief of recognizing that there are areas where we will never truly be all that we want to be, and the freedom that comes from that recognition.  She talks about the fulfillment that can be found in allowing ourselves to be real—with others, but first and foremost with ourselves.

Are you trying to be something you’re not?  Are you killing yourself to be perfect in some area of your life?  Do you try to convince yourself that if you just put in a little more effort, a little more self-discipline, you can achieve some unrealistic (or unnecessary) goal?  Does all this effort actually add any happiness or fulfillment to your life, or do you find—like me—that all of this “pretending” brings more burden than it does benefit?

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The Goodness of Grief

Lately I’ve had cause to ponder the role of sorrow in our lives.  From losing several pregnancies to learning that my best friends were moving away from San Francisco, I’ve faced a variety of losses in the last year or so.  And yet, I am in a better place now than I was before I faced these heartbreaks, and I am more hopeful about the future than I have been in a long time.

For one thing, these sorrows have caused me to look again at the blessings in my life.  Losing three unborn babies made me tenderly aware of what a miracle my three-year-old son is, of how much I love him, of what joy he brings into my life every day—even the no-nap, won’t-eat-his-vegetables, temper-tantrum days.

And losing some of my friends to the transiency that is seemingly unavoidable in San Francisco (and any big city for that matter) has made me aware of how healthy it can be to grieve for something.  In the past, I have often tried to hold grief at bay, to tell myself “it’s not that bad.”  But all that did was to prolong the process.  Loss always leads to grief, whether we acknowledge that grief, or just stuff it away in the back closets of our mind to face another day, another year.  This time, I chose to acknowledge the pain from the get-go.  I told my friends repeatedly how much I was going to miss them.  And I let myself cry several times over the weeks before our impending separation.

And now I find that I’m actually able to let go without the intense anguish that I’ve sometimes felt in the past.  Because I’ve allowed myself to engage with the grief of my loss over a period of weeks and months, it seems to be ebbing away now, like the slowly receding waves of a waning tide.  I know that the sorrow of losing my friends will never abate completely, and my life will never be quite the same without them.  But by grieving openly and outwardly throughout this process, I find that I can now look to the future with hope and even excitement, instead of the bitterness that has often plagued me in the past.  So, here’s to the next season of life, with whatever joys—and even sorrows—it may bring.

Longing for “Home”

I grew up in Ohio, in an old farmhouse set on the edge of 600 acres of undeveloped parkland.  There were fields of grass and groves of old-growth trees, frog-filled ponds, and a stream that ran through a forest of golden-green foliage.  My own yard held a small grove of birch trees, a 100-foot oak tree, a pink-flowering crabapple that would take your breath away in the springtime, and a huge, sun-filled maple tree that turned into a bright golden miracle when the leaves turned in the fall.  Not to mention the fruit trees, raspberry bushes, and the garden full of flowers and vegetables.  It was, in many ways, a paradise.  And it was all mine—mine to explore, smell, taste—my own private world of perfect beauty.

When I grew up, I moved to the city.  I craved the adventure and challenge of a new environment.  I was done with trees and gardens.  I wanted museums, high-class restaurants, the symphony.  I traded in the beauty of nature for the beautiful creations of men.  And, for the most part, I have truly enjoyed it.

But still, there has always been a longing to return to that pristine natural environment that I grew up in.  Though I have been delighted by the many works of art that I’ve gotten to see around the world, my favorite pieces are still always the landscapes, especially the works of the Hudson River School and of Louis Comfort Tiffany—artists who were inspired by the American Eastern Woodlands and, as a result, create scenes that remind me strongly of “home.”  And while I enjoy going to all kinds of concerts, my favorites are the performances of classical works like Borodin’s “In the Steppes of Central Asia” and Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”—compositions that conjure up the majesty and indescribable beauty of nature.

When I walk outside my front door into the bustle and energy of the city, there is an exhilaration that takes place—an excitement to see what new experience the metropolis will bring me today.  But underneath that is also a longing, an unfulfilled desire to return to the solitary scenes of beauty I knew as a child.  I don’t think I can ever belong fully to one world or the other—I’ve become too much of a “city kid” to ever leave it entirely.  Still, I know that as long as I’m away from nature I will always feel a bit like an exile—like my true home is somewhere else.  But then, maybe deep inside we all feel like that to some extent, no matter where we live or where we’ve come from.

Do you ever feel like you’re misplaced somehow, an exile in your own life? Why do you think that is? What is this insatiable desire in us that never quite feels settled, that never quite feels at rest? Is there a solution, or are we to be stuck with this perpetual sense of “in-between,” this perpetual longing for “home”?