Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you… Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. – Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
Well my friends, here we are at the start of the third decade of the 21st Century. Now, that still sounds very much like science fiction to me. All too often we live our lives in a sort of time loop calling back to the past in order to cast ahead into the more distant future. When you are young you might ask yourself what would you like to do with your life? When you are old, you might ask, what have you done with your life? Be present in your life, in the precious moments of the day, and ask yourself, Who do you want to be – right now?
Do you know how to judge when a fruit is ripe? It depends on the fruit, doesn’t it? Walk through any produce section in the summer and you will see people thumping watermelons. They lift one watermelon after another listening for that perfect ripeness tone like a piano tuner. When I lived in China, old grandma’s would go through supermarket produce sections sticking their fingernail into various fruits, trying to find the ones ripe that day, no attention paid to what they left behind. So if you wanted fruit that was not marked up by fingernails you went to a fruit stand where the seller would pluck the ripe ones out for you. In one of our neighborhood fruit stores, there was a man I called the fruit master. No matter the fruit, he could reach in and pull out a winner every time. Back then, I spent some very happy five minutes having the master pick out a pineapple (they are ripe when the leaves can be taken off easily), and proceed to slice it up for us. Always he would pause and offer us one of the first juicy bites. With the juice dribbling down my chin, I’d give him the thumbs up. He would take a deep drag on his ever-present cigarette and deftly produce a bag of delicious goodness. Not once did I think about the cleanliness of his knife or fingers. In those moments I savored life to its fullest. Savor those sweet moments in your daily life.
When I was about five years old, I would imitate different famous people for my beloved grandpa. I’ve always been a good mimic, and so it seemed natural to me to adopt a persona to suit the moment. And in the moments when the five year old me pretended to be John Wayne, my grandfather laughed. That laugh was magic to me because I loved him more than anyone in my life. Just being around him was enough sometimes. And, sometimes, I pretended to be someone else, for a few moments to make him happy. Those temporary personas can overtake our true self though. So you should remember to be your authentic self with those you love. As Kurt Vonnegut wisely said, We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
I am not a big fan of looking at myself in mirrors. I feel the same way about cameras. The other day when I was in an online poetry reading, I hardly looked at myself in the Zoom window. But there are days when I must take a long hard look at myself, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In those moments of reflection I use the mirror of my soul to judge myself. First I look in the physical mirror and examine the “smile and laugh lines” (wrinkles), my less than perfect teeth, complexion… But I spend the most time looking myself in the eyes. I drive off worries and fears, and focus on the me I am right now. And I don’t look away until I smile. Because deep down in my inner core, that is who I am – a guy who likes to smile, laugh, and savor the moments when I can.
This third decade of the 21st Century has started out okay. I’ve been able to reign in pessimism, and cut down a bit more on my fussing and fretting. Right now, even though the days have been blurring together for months, I can hit the brakes, stand in the center of the vortex and be the person I want to be. Being present in your life does not make: the skin clearer, the laughter louder or the fruits juicier. But you can discover just what a unique miracle you really and truly are, because you are. Be real with yourself and others. And most of all – Be good to yourself.