I can only be myself

Existential Angst bubble

Adoptive kids have a special layer of wonder in their lives. Why am I in this family? How did this happen to me? Who am I really? What might have been?

This special layer of wonder undoubtedly will shape them and their life direction, as all mental efforts do.

But as I worry this thread a bit for my kids (and my nephew, and my husband, and my friends’ kids, and the many other adopted people I know), I also recognize it.

We do a lot of things with our lives — jobs, marriage, kids, pets, travel — but all we are really doing is looking for a way to get to know oneself.

This is the human experience that Western ideologies deflect, but which is true: the only knowable thing is the self. 

anais nin quote selfThose Other Selfs

I can’t be another person. I can only be myself. Even if I give birth to a child from my own body, nothing of that person is mine. They go on in their own cycle of growth and experience to live out another, new, human experience, to wonder again the unknowable.

I remember driving my minivan and crying and talking to my mom on speaker phone. Why, mom, why? Why can’t the things YOU learned in raising kids just be implanted knowledge? Why do I have to go through this??

Why must each new person experience life and love and parenting and all the parts of existence as if it had just been invented?

It seems almost an illogical and cruel joke. One that reminds us of its existence whenever we try to forget.

My dad is in his late 70s. He was married at 23. Now my mom has died and he is alone. In his waning years, after bowel obstruction surgeries and heart stints, you’d think he could take it easy. But he’s still not free to “relax.”

Angst finds him and he’s faced with the human condition again: what am I to do with the time I have left? Where do I start? What am I supposed to do? Who should I be?

The Question that Haunts

Here we are. Humans who have conquered mountains, flight, gigabytes, diseases. But we cannot fix the perfectly common problem of the human condition.

So we each stroll the grocery aisles and soccer fields and Tinder with our underlying angst-filled questioning:

who am I? 
what is my purpose?
who made me? why?

We are united in our wonder, but also in our towering sense of aloneness and unknowing. We bury ourselves in work and craft projects and Netflix enough to sometimes drown out the noise of self.

But the self is a haunting. It finds us, in a piece of music. It hangs in the air between the sofa and the chair. It shakes us from sleep when the house is too quiet. It’s always waiting for us.

“I’ve tried to become someone else for a while, only to discover that he, too, was me.”
— Stephen Dunn

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home.

 

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  2 comments for “I can only be myself

  1. Lois
    October 24, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you, Elizabeth! Just want you to know, that I have. found food for thought in every piece of your writing that I have read. Are you thinking of writing a book ? Or two or three?

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