Monday, December 14, 2015

who am I?

Seen through one lens, perhaps there is an unceasing universal prayer resting on every human lip, a request to the heavens and all their realms, sometimes whispered, sometimes yowled: "Tell me who I am." It may never be clearly enunciated and it never receives a perfect, consoling response, but still it lingers, I suspect.

Perhaps a job will answer the prayer. Or maybe marital status. A spouse. Or money. Or a philosophy. Or an institution. Or an award. Or an argument won. Or, or, or ... or any circumstance that seems to bind and bond and quantify and, at last, settle things. It never works perfectly, but that doesn't lessen the intensity of the quest. If I knew who I was, I could somehow get on with things and be at ease.

But in the midst of this wispy, floating quest and query, the possibility almost never asserts itself: What if there were some thing or person that could wrap up the case with a perfect, unassailable response. What if there were an answer that was in fact The Answer ... and there's an end to it! On reflection, it seems that something within knows that there is no answer and nevertheless persists and begs and seeks and insists. A settled and settling coherence is not in the cards.

Still, there are moments when the target comes close -- so very close -- to finding a focus and the arrow really seems to strike home.

Once upon a time, a time when I was hip-deep in visiting a shrink (who am I?) on the one hand and practicing Zen Buddhism (who am I?) on another, I got wind of a little work. A fellow at the zendo said that the advertising world had been thrown into a tizzy by a strike and agencies were looking for stand-in's to tout various products. "Why don't you try it?" he suggested. "All you have to do is show up."

So I showed up and waited in a room littered with unremarkable people like me who had likewise heard they might find work. There was paperwork. There was waiting. There was no indication of what product any of us might be touting. We waited. And finally, it was my turn in front of the camera and bright lights and reading from a story board. A much-too-skinny, high-octane woman placed me where I was to stand for the reading. And then I read.

The ad was for pickup trucks and I knew in a nanosecond that I didn't stand a chance. I was not someone whose looks would inspire faith or longing in the world of pickup trucks. The reading took perhaps a minute, after which the tightly-wound woman came to escort me towards the exit. Thanks for coming, she said perfunctorily but not unkindly. I wasn't what the agency was looking for ... and then she answered my unspoken prayer:

"You're more the priest, cop or young daddy if you'd smile more."

And she was right. A person I hardly knew, someone who had not delved earnestly into my psyche or plumbed my mystical realms took a finger-snap's worth of her time to nail me to the barnyard door. I was as obvious as clear water ... why beat around the bush?

Her on-target assessment left me both wonder-struck and bereft. For a few moments I knew who I was. No more frills and navel-gazing ... just plain. Just plain, and "just plain" was just plain fine. Sometimes "just plain" fills the bill. Sometimes not. Either way was just fine.

But to what constructive uses might I now put all the time once dedicated to finding out who I was. The prospect was so daunting that -- you guessed it -- I went back to petitioning the heavens and all their realms: "Tell me who I am."


  1. Let's have a beer and to hell with it.

    1. My father told me to be a 'freelancer' given all the internet and electricity that are in excess supply these days, I have yet bought him a beer or sent him to hell yet.

  2. Does this ever take me back!
    Loved your narrative, rejoiced in your "one shining Camelot-ish moment" of someone knowing for you who you were.

  3. I suppose that iit was good to know what a sharp perceiver of the superficial level of personality "perceives" back then.

    Wonder what her counterpart would perceive today?