Because of you.
July 7, 2011 § 15 Comments
If you’ve ever had a kid, or been a kid with siblings who are nothing like you, you know every child is born with an innate personality.
As if “self” were a suitcase packed for the journey, each of us arrives predisposed to be a certain kind of person.
But from the moment we draw our first breath, it is the people around us who encourage and nurture that natural self, reshape it, or so deprive it of oxygen it withers.
The force of other personalities is especially effective when applied to a temperament like mine. I’m a natural-born sidekick. Ask me what I want to do and I’ll say, “I don’t know, what you want to do?”
And I mean it. Seriously.
You open the car door and your dog jumps in? That’s me.
Temperamentally, I’m just like my mother, with one very big caveat. My mother didn’t come into the world just like my mother. She remembered herself as a willful child with stand-up courage. Unfortunately, this was not a temperament that was encouraged or even tolerated in a daughter when she was growing up.
She remembered the child she was wistfully. I could tell she missed her original self, but over time she became the right kind of daughter.
Luckily, many of her inborn qualities survived, and because they matched mine, my natural self flourished.
Like her, I’m a breathless optimist. I always think something amazing is about to happen!
Like her, I believe that the truest representation of life is the story, because story discards everything inconsequential, repetitive or boring, leaving only the grand emotional sweep.
My mother was a romantic in love with life. I learned from her how to toss my heart like a penny down a well, sure when I heard an answering splash, that my wish would come true.
My father, who whistled and sang and learned to play viola from his dad, encouraged the melodies that still run ceaselessly in my brain. I believe that one day I will walk down a street and all the doors will fly open. People will lean out those doors and begin to sing—life the musical! (This is a combination of my father’s music and my mother’s imaginative optimism).
As a natural sidekick I’ve had a lucky life. I was born to the right parents and have been fortunate in who I’ve traveled with since. I was twenty when I met my husband, Ray. He was thirty-two and way ahead of me in knowledge and experience.
His natural temperament is unlike any other I’ve ever encountered. He is not a leader, he is not a sidekick. He is a lone explorer who will always carry his own pack up Everest.
When we met he was a photographer—that was his label, but he has worn so many before and since: commercial fisherman, helicopter repairman, secret agent man, boatwright, newspaper reporter—but each is temporary. His true calling is curiosity. He figures things out, learning new skills so that whatever comes up he can do-it-himself.
He is quiet and observant. Tramping around with him, hiking along railroad tracks, or sitting in a canoe as the morning mist burns off, I have learned how to be quiet and observant too.
I’ve picked up some of his self-sufficiency. His carelessness about the yardsticks used to measure success I have down cold. He doesn’t answer to that kind of pressure so neither do I.
With him I have done so many things I would never have tried, or even thought of on my own (when he opens the car door and says, “jump in” the destination is always interesting).
Do you ever think about who you are at the core, the essential self that is non-negotiable? Conversely, do you ever think about the revisions made to that self by the daily wear of the other lives that jostle against yours?
No one can take full credit or full blame for who they turned out to be–and the possible selves that might have been are endless.
Although the me who sits here writing this feels inevitable, I wonder who I might have become had I been the sidekick of different people.
And because I am essentially a story-teller, I can’t help but wonder if, in some alternate universe, that other self sits at her computer imagining me.