Just be yourself. That was some advice I recently received. I was invited to speak and read some stories for a group of people. I had done this before but this time I was uncertain about the group's expectations. I wasn't sure that my presentation would appeal to the audience, and I wondered what stories and what subject matter would be of interest to them.
I expressed my concerns to a friend, and he gave me some advice.
"Just pick out any stories you want. I'm sure they'll like whatever you read and, by all means, just be yourself. That's all anyone can expect and I'm sure you'll do well. Just be yourself."
Giving thought to those words, I began to wonder. No, not about which stories to read or what subject matter would be appropriate. I suppose I have learned that I can't please everyone all the time and that wasn't what concerned me. It was that other bit of advice, "just be yourself." Who was that person he called "myself?"
I had been many people throughout my life. I had been a child, a husband and a father. I have taken on the role, albeit quite involuntarily, of a grieving widower and an aging man living alone. It seemed to me that I had been nothing more than an actor playing many parts.
Blending in as much as possible seemed to be my greatest desire when I was young. I just wanted to be like my friends. I told my wife I liked the new color of her hair. Those words allowed me to be accommodating. When scolding my children, I said I never got into as much trouble as they did. I was not being truthful, but I needed to be what I presumed to be a role model.
When I found that I was suddenly all alone, I told myself that I was not the first to be in that state and others had somehow learned to cope with the loneliness. I told myself I needed to be someone who could overcome adversity. All those seemingly different people over all those many years were me, but not really myself.
For all those years and for all those roles played, I wore a thinly woven gossamer cloak. Now that I have taken the time to look for the real me, myself, I must admit that those futile attempts to conceal the real me, whosoever that may be, were absurd at best.
Outwardly, I projected an air of confidence. I told those who asked, "I'm fine," and I felt as though my life had meaning and purpose. But that was not true for, in the deepest recesses of my mind, lived the most torturous fear one could ever imagine -- the fear of being myself.
It was a grotesque and monstrous fear that the gossamer facade I portrayed to others would be exposed and my whole existence and every role I portrayed would be revealed to be no more than a fraud; a fraud perpetrated for selfish reasons, and one born not from necessity but from the ugliness of narcissism.
Regrettably, and after the passage of so many years, I now believe that many of my species never discover who they really are. With that observation and after many nights of thought, I, and with the deepest and most sorrowful of feelings, must admit that I too don't truly know who I am. When I am asked to be myself, who is that person that should come forward? I fear that I have hidden behind that gossamer veil for far too long.
I suppose I must now pose a question to you. After reading these few words, do you see the irony contained within my thoughts? If you haven't yet gotten my meaning, I'll put the obvious question to you more succinctly. Which of the many persons residing within me wrote this story? Well, to be as honest as I can hope to be, I don't know, nor will I ever know the answer to that question. I must wonder if it was the real me. Was I being myself?
I find that as I sit here writing this story and while the dark of night lurks just outside my window, I'm not sure who I really am. How can I be myself when I don't know who that person is, and I don't know where to search for that most elusive man.
After the passage of all those years, that special person, the one I want to call me, has most assuredly come to see beyond the role-playing characters I had portrayed, and I will at least call that a step in the right direction. I have come to know and accept who I believe must have been the closest thing possible to the real me: that person with no faintly veiled disguises, that person behind that transparent facade. But can I trust the rationale by which that decision was made? After all, who made it? Which "real me" came to that conclusion?
Why title this story "Gossamer?" I gave some thought to the title for this odd- and inward-looking tale and finally decided that the name was very apropos. I believe that the characters I have portrayed all these past many years have been nothing more than transparent facades. Always afraid that someone might see through those thinly disguised characters and roles I played, I tried to hide the real me. Although I have now come to understand that the persona was cloudy and veiled, I always attempted to conceal the elusive one called myself.
Now, and in the waning years of my life, I walk the same path every day and think about my life and the world around me. I consider the people I've had the good fortune to know and this wondrous world I call home. With these observations and thoughts in mind, I often, and very late at night, sit alone in a darkened room transferring that which has found a place in my mind to printed words; but who is it that types those words?
I have yet to find that elusive person, me. I sometimes think that maybe I did find him, but I was just too stupid to recognize that man. I have sadly, and while lamenting the idea, considered another possibility. Maybe that person no longer lives within me.
It is my dream that someday that true essence of who I am, that light that I pray still glows deep within me, will make itself known to, not only me, but to those I know. Maybe then I can find peace.
The seasons change and the dreary cold of winter gave way to spring, but the chill of the dark shortened days that lives in my heart never seems to pass into the blossom-filled springtime. When can I be myself?
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. The opinions expressed are those of the author.