Last year, I was requested to perform a simple task -- to describe myself. Immediately, I began responding with my physical attributes: my hair, my eye color, my height, my weight and various other details regarding my appearance. But, when I thought about it more, I realized this was not at all describing my "self."
The word self is commonly defined as that which constitutes one's identity, character, abilities and attitudes. So, I asked these questions: Is my height a true indication of my compassion toward others? Does the fact that I have green eyes somehow indicate that I strive to be forthright and honest? Does my body frame convey that I enjoy performing acts of kindness? The answer was no.
I found it fascinating that I had instantly and instinctively begun spewing details first and foremost about how I appeared to others; how my self was seen. However, I soon realized that what I’d shared was not at all an accurate depiction of my “self.” If I were to truly describe my self to others, I would have to begin with an honest assessment of what is contained on the reverse side of my skin, all the intangible components from which my self is truly comprised.
Perhaps in the future I could more accurately respond to a request to describe myself by creating another word with deeper meaning; I could describe mysoul, describe myspirit, describe mysubstance. It would then give me an opportunity to delve into and share, not my brown hair and crooked teeth, but what, and who, I really believe is my self.
I attended a beautiful funeral service for a woman who spent her entire life helping others and putting herself last in line in every circumstance. Mary had one of the most humble, gracious and giving hearts I've ever been blessed enough to encounter. I listened as, one by one, her family, friends and those whose lives her kindness had touched, selected carefully the words they chose to speak of her. Not one person began with, "Mary stood 5' 3" and weighed approximately 110 pounds. She had short hair, blue eyes and a petite frame." Instead, they each spoke of her kindness, her caring, her selfless ways, her gentle demeanor and the genuineness of the love she shared with her family, her friends and the world. They spoke of her eagerness to help those in need and the generosity of her spirit. And more often than not, they mentioned her unconditional love. Though she was indeed beautiful inside and out, the latter was not what ultimately mattered and this became more and more apparent as each person began to describe Mary, her "self."
Recently, I stayed at a hotel where they had installed a magnifying mirror that extended from the wall to assist patrons in their efforts to enhance their outward appearances. I must admit, I didn't care for the reflection. My face suddenly resembled the roadmap of a densely populated metropolis. What had appeared to me as thin smile lines yesterday now reminded me of potholes that had many times jarred my car while driving across the Queensboro Bridge.
As I began to fix my hair and face with the many forms of cosmetics I purchase regularly and, before this heartless mirror appeared in my life, had clumsily applied with middle-aged eyes in the general direction of my eyelids, eyelashes, cheeks and lips, I stopped for a moment to observe things more carefully. I examined the usually overlooked pores in the skin of my cheeks, forehead and chin as I began to fill them with mysterious liquid and powder, of which the only knowledge I had of their composition was that they were beige and pink, respectively.
What was I doing? It was like filling a pure, clean, open sea sponge with oil and grit. And all because someone somewhere had decided for me that I would look more youthful, attractive and fashionable to the masses if I followed these "rules."
I thought how interesting it would be if I could buy make-up that would allow me to adorn my “self” as my "self." If I could proudly apply and display to the world kindness on my eyelids, generosity across my cheekbones and compassion on my lips, how wonderful a challenge making my "self" beautiful would be instead.
Disillusioned, and a little disappointed with my "self," I continued smearing, brushing and combing these strange substances and colors onto my face. If my obedient compliance were converted into a recipe, it would require one cup fear, l/4 cup trepidation, three tablespoons vanity and a dash of a lack of self-confidence. Although in thoughtfully describing my "self," to someone, I would have proudly stated that I possess none of the above. I suppose this mirror, that day, made me realize differently.