Can We Be Whoever We Want to Be?

There is a fallacy that dogs us our whole lives, instilled in us by our parents, teachers, preachers, writers, and everyone else who has influence over young minds. We are told over and over again that we can be whoever we want to be, but this simply is not true. We can never be anyone other than ourselves, no matter how hard we try, and anyone who has ever taken a vacation to get away from it all knows this. No matter where you go, there you are.

We can participate in the creation of ourselves, trying on new styles of dressing and living, for example, but that does not change the essence of our being. We go through many metamorphoses during the course of our lives, from infant to adolescent, from adolescent to adult, from adult to . . . whatever one is called in the last stage of life. (Odd that there isn’t a noun to denote such a person. There are words to describe all the other stages of life, but not that one.) We also go through traumas and grief and come out the other side feeling like a different person, but that person is just another facet of our being, not a completely new entity.

Often when we are told we can be whoever we want to be, the speaker is referring to our occupation or vocation, not our essence, but even this variation of the saying is a fallacy, because we cannot always be whoever we want to be. For example, a short, fifty-year-old man with small hands and an inability to handle a basketball will never be a professional basketball player, garning millions of dollars and fans, no matter how much he desires it. Not every girl who dreams of being romanced by the love of her life and living happily ever after achieves her dream. Too often the frogs she kisses are simply frogs. Or the love of her life dies before the relationship can come to full flower, leaving her alone and grieving, which happens way more than we ever imagine.

Even worse than being made to believe we can be whoever we want is being made to believe that we cannot be who we want to be.

When I was in high school, my sophomore English teacher told me that she saved papers from all the students she thought would make it as a writer but that she never saved any of mine. It was sort of a strange and very cruel thing to say, particularly since she knew I planned to write. I never thought of her as cruel, so her words puzzled me, but other than that, the slur never really mattered. I had no burning desire to be a writer — my saying so was more of a statement of my love of words, and I have kept that love throughout all my life.

I never really had dreams, though I often wanted not to be me, which is why my current commitment to being me is so important. But now I wonder if I need to find (or create) a dream, too. Are impossible dreams important, helping us through the traumas of our lives? Or does the unfilfillment of those dreams cause other traumas? Sometimes a miracle does happen, and the impossible suddenly becomes possible, but a dependence on miracles seems a rather inept way of planning for one’s future, no matter what our age. So maybe the fallacy that we can be whoever we want to be isn’t important. Perhaps it’s the instillation of dreams that is important.

Building Hopes and Creating Dreams

And so ends the worst year of my life.

Last year was a time of soul-shattering loss, grief, and strange blessings. It was a time of despair and self-realization, transition and adjustment. But of course, you know all that — I’ve made no secret of my ordeal, chronicling every painful stage of my journey. Many people endure worse traumas than the death of a soul mate, and they continue living without whimpering, which has made me feel a bit self-indulgent and whiny with my grief bloggeries, yet that was never my intention. The impact of grief after a major loss seems to be one more thing that has been discounted in our discount culture, and I simply wanted to tell the truth.

Oddly, I still don’t know the truth of it. It seems unreal at times. Was I really that woman? That woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain? That woman so connected to another human being she still feels broken nine months after his death? That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds?

I’ve always considered myself a passionless woman, so how can that woman be me? During periods when I don’t feel the weight of his absence (I never feel his presence, though sometimes his absence feels normal, as if he’s simply in another room), during periods of emotional calm, my stoic side rules, making my grief feel fake, as if it’s something I’m doing to make myself seem important. Yet other times the desperate need to go home to him, to see him one more time, claws at me, tearing me apart.

Making the situation even more unreal, I can barely remember what he looked like — I do not think in images, so it’s understandable (though distressing) that I have no clear image of him in my mind. Even worse, I don’t have a photo that matches what I remember of him. (The only one I have was taken fifteen years ago.)

Nor do I have a clear sense of time. Sometimes it feels as if he died just a couple of months ago. Sometimes it feels like years. The demarcation between our shared life and my solitary life was once so stark it was like the edge of a cliff. All I could see was the past and what I had lost. The living I have done in the past nine months has blurred that edge, adding to the sense of unreality.

I have learned much this year. I learned the importance of importance. If there is nothing of importance in your life, you have to find something and make it important. I learned the importance of goals, even if it’s only the goal of getting through one more day. I learned the importance of hope, though hope for what I still don’t know, but that is part of the journey – building hopes, creating dreams, finding reasons to live.

And so begins a new year.