Thursday, October 27, 2016

the gift I mean to give

Adulthood means laying on artifice as thick as cake frosting. It means wrapping your personality in layer after layer of cool, impenetrable armor. It means lots of masking your identity in pretension and dissembling. 

And I get it. It's necessary, in a way. To build those bridges--networks, people call 'em--you have to know what words to say, what articles to have read, what television to reference. You have to accumulate the social capital in the coinage of a realm that's not your own. In order to get through the day, you sometimes have to push inconvenient emotions to the side, and ignore small stings.

It's easy, in the hustle and bustle of trying to navigate the exterior world, to let division arise between the external self and one's eternal being. It's easy to avoid gazing at the interior landscape. You shudder, thinking at what you might see there. You hide it away: oh that old thing? No one wants to see her. They--and you--are much more interested in this gauzy, glamorous creature that has evolved. This new apparition of yourself says all the right things, knows the right tune to play, and has calculated metrics for success. She's a hit. 

The problem is that all the Self we file away to "Later" is the good stuff. It's the stuff that is the real meat of living, underneath Instagram moments and twitter feeds. Below perfectly coiffed hair and impeccably tailored cocktail cultural commentary is the quiet heart of our humanity that so often gets ignored.

We are so afraid that if we drop our cocoons, we'd have to face that cringeworthy reality: an old self, which we've outgrown. We are so afraid that at our core is an embarrassment of a caterpillar: a clunky and childish version of ourselves, a burden on our new sophisticated, grown-up status.

What a surprise, when you peel away the layers of artifice, and shake off the immaterial, mannered self, to find that what lies underneath has transformed. You expect that when you unwind the chrysalis, you will find that embarrassing old caterpillar underneath. When you crack open the chitin shell you've built around your vulnerable soul, it's a delightful surprise to find that a winged creature has formed in the meantime. 

This is the gift that honesty has been trying to give us all along: ourselves. Which, if we had been paying attention to, we would have noticed how they'd grown: bright and beautiful, richer and deeper than before. Underneath the artifice, something magic lives, and a little humility and honesty is all it took to set it free.

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