Many of us spend a good portion of our lives comparing ourselves to others, comparing how we see ourselves to how others must surely see us, comparing their reactions of our actions to the intentions of our actions. Usually we fall short in our own eyes of our expectations of ourselves. We can expect less from others, but from ourselves... well, we just KNOW better.
We know who we want to be--nicer, kinder, smarter, faster... a bunch of qualified adjectives that we'll never live up to. If I'm kinder today than I was yesterday, I'm still less kind than I could be. I'm still less kind than that guy over there, and if I become kinder, there's still some theoretical person out there who is kinder than I am. I am inadequate.
I think even for the bravado of the arrogent bastard sitting in the cubicle next to you that you'd like to run through the hand-cracked wringer on your grandmother's oldfashioned open-basin Maytag washing machine, he's still unsure of himself. He still senses he's less than he could or should be.
Are we who we should be? Who is that? Is that the person we long to be, or fear to be? Is it the person tied down by hurt or anger or our past that we see when we look in the mirror? Is it the happier, freer person we were in our childhood, that brief blink of an eye before the world's troubles piled up on us.... maybe when we were four or five? They say that children are wise; there is often a certain simple depth to the things they spout so freely. Perhaps that is the pinical of our being. We may grow smarter, but are we ever truely wiser? We may grow up and older, but are we growing, if we gradually stoop under the weight of the world?
Life weighs us down. It gives us the opportunities and tools to become who we should be. It also gives us our greatest obsticals. And even if we come out on the other side, what of all the places we paused in between? The people we've hurt, the relationships we've convoluted.
We were sitting in a funeral service today. A small room had been set up with a podium, some flowers and photos. The service had spilled out of the small room and into the larger ajoining rooms, and there were people standing to the sides. The mother of the deceased kept rather composed as she spoke of her son. I hadn't know him; he'd been a supervisor of James at work. Friends and family shared memories of his humor and cheer, his good will and intentions, his woodworking and how he enjoyed simple pleasures like drinking coffee on his porch in the morning, and I tried to remember if this was the supervisor James always complained about, or the one he liked. Funerals are for the living, you see, and even if he'd been totally reprehensable, we'd have gone out of respect for a mother who had outlived her son. Inconsequently, I remembered much later that it wasn't the one that he complained about, though I still can't seem to recall his exact feelings on the matter.
A friend of the deceased spoke, and even though they were just friends, I could tell they really were two connected souls just from what she said. I did become a bit sad for the missed opportunity--the fellow had had two previous failed marriages, and probably hadn't even known that this girl was 'the one' when he took his own life. Depression clouds over many things, our perception of the world, our perception of the world's perception of us. Our own vision of who we think we are and how we measure up. But that's another post for another time.
I've been to funerals for family members my fair share of times. I remember the stifiling warmth, the low voices, the sad smiles and the chuckled-over tales. Most are the "highlights" of the person's life. Others are low-lights that are now humerous anticdotes. All of our twisted relationship baggage to that long-gone situation is released, at least for that moment. Character flaws that annoyed us to no end just last week are suddenly exhaulted strengths, or personality quirks to be smiled at fondly. It can be jading when you think back to how your mother has bitched for years about so-and-so's habit of doing such-and-such, and how she saw it as being spiteful or interpreted it as a personal attack, but suddenly that person is now a saint!
The deceased left a lengthy note, part of which stated that he felt that there was no love in his life. Sitting in the overflowing rooms, I got a sense that he didn't percieve his life as it actually was. Perhaps those stories laundered by time and distance are the reality of our life. Perhaps there is something deep within us that we're capable of recognising in each other, something that lets us see past flaws and agonies, no matter how deep the gordge or the scars they've left.
The comforting stories, the good character traits, the positive spin on the less-than-ideal traits, that may be the real us. Not us who we were, deep down, but who we meant to be, who we were meant to be, and the potential that others saw within us.
It's a shame we need distance and death to help us remember what we saw in those times when we glanced, out of the corner of our eye, each other's souls.