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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Can we ever be who we really are?



Yesterday, it was all over the local news that a priest from the parish attached to my daughter's school had done something to someone that he shouldn't have. It wasn't a child that he touched, but a male adult. Yet a scandal none the less.

I thought about him, this priest. It was obvious to me that he was gay. It was also obvious to me that he loved being a priest, he loved gardening as evidenced by the beautiful garden at the church, he loved music. He was allowed to love those things. What he could not do was love who he wanted to love. Be who he was.

And that lead to disaster.

Then I thought about a lot of my hospice patients. How at life's end, all that pretense starts to slip away, and for the first time they become who they really are. Or they stay hidden, only revealing secrets to strangers about regrets over a life not fully lived.

It saddens me to know that we have to hide behind masks many times to fit into what "society" expects from us. Not just our sexuality, but other things as well. Many men see a role that they must play and forgo many things that may have interested them because, well, they just were not manly things. Women, too. We get stuck in roles that force us to become caretakers for so many and we leave behind some of our dreams, many of our own desires.

Perhaps that is why people have a mid-life crisis. Their kids are grown up and they finally realize that they are not living their own true life, not being their own true self. That their life was a lie, built on a set of expectations that never did belong to them. That time is finally running out.

I see it in kids as well. Many kids are lead down paths that their parents choose for them, never realizing the promptings of their own heart. And many kids will grow up trying to appease that parent, sometimes with disasterous results.

I have a saying that hangs, in of all places, the half bathroom on the first floor. In it, she, my favorite author Carol Shields says, " Just let go. Just be."

But can we simply let go and just allow others to be? Do we have to sit as judge and jury all of the time? Can we ever allow ourselves to "just be." I am not sure.

I will say that that priest should not have touched that man. It was wrong. But by not allowing him to be who he really was probably led him to that desperate act. It is a shame, really. Desires can and should be held back when people are adults. Teachers, priests, policemen, any adult really should be able to contain themselves, I know. But this is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about just being allowed to be who we really are. The honest self. I am not talking about the deranged or the mentally ill or the criminal mind. I am talking about the majority, the "normal folks" who have just been pushed down for too long. Maybe forever.

I am sure that many would be shocked to learn what people are really all about behind closed doors, behind that pretty facade and all of those smiling faces posted on Facebook of the happy family that is nothing short of miserable. That pretty house that holds many memories, but also great tragedy. The wedding pictures that look beautiful, but hide the true story.

I think you have to be quite brave to show the world the real you. It is easier to just plod along keeping your head down and going through the motions. Easier, but not fulfilling.

I am not sure what the answer is. I just know that I see a lot of pain and suffering that just does not have to be. Anti-depressants still the the number one prescribed medication. Cardiac disease the number one killer. Sad and heartbroken are many. But you will never know it. They hide behind their mask. Our masks. Many go from doctor to doctor with somatic complaints that haunt them. "What is wrong with me?" they ask. But the answer isn't a pill, or exercising or supplements. It is discovering who they really want to be, what they truly love, how they truly want to live. But it is much easier to take a pill. Changing a life seems too daunting.

It is hard work to let go. To just be.

Anyway, I feel bad about the priest. There won't be a good ending to this story. His true self has come out and it can never be contained again. Is that such a bad thing? I don't know. Perhaps he can leave the priesthood and find himself. One can only hope it leads to good, not bad.

So here is Carol Shield's full quote. I hope you like it. It is my favorite. But if you don't, that is okay too.

Go for long walks,
Indulge in hot baths.
Question your assumptions,
Be kind to yourself,
Live for the moment,
Loosen up, scream,
Curse the world,
Count your blessings,
Just let go, Just be.

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