Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Me Who I am, Was, and Will Be

The other day I was watching old home videos with my mom and sister.  If you have ever done this--be it after a holiday, for a momentous birthday, or even on any given Saturday afternoon--you may be able to relate to the strange nature of the paradoxical disconnect between who you once were and who you are as you watch the videos.  There is a bizarre intrigue as you see yourself played out, being supposedly you, yet there are parts of you that you never knew you had carried all of these years.  And then there are those moments that you can almost feel--where you and the younger you almost converge in the camaraderie of a singular shared experience.  I watched myself opening gifts Christmas morning--and I shared the excitement and endearment of certain long-awaited treasures.  I remember loving certain outfits, and playing my first CD on my new Sony Boom Box.  Yet as much as I could relate to these experiences, I still felt as though I watching a stranger, or perhaps a daughter or younger cousin.  

Except for those very revealing moments that disclosed my most innate nature, I knew the person before me must surely be me.  

Every birthday, I wanted to light the candles.  I loved fire.  I have always known that the beauty and mystery of a flame has long-intrigued me, but to see myself at six and seven staring at candles, helping start the fire, wanting to light the candles--I came to realize that this was really a part of me.  An affection towards fire was not something that randomly developed and grew to my present fetish, but the intrigue started much younger than I had imagined, and was probably fostered through the encouragement of such terms of endearment as "my little pyro," or "Little Miss Brittney and her fires."  This grew with me, matured, and remains today.

Or there is my avoidance of the camera.  I would strategically place myself behind a beam, wall, or the face of a friend to avoid the shutter.  But then there were other times, when in a "better mood," or when I had decided, that I would ham it up for the film crews.  I was willful and peculiarly shy.  Even today, I have been know to get a little more than perturbed if Mom starts snapping more than five shots.  I do better with photos and video now, but I do not by any stretch enjoy being on front of a lens.  Yet, in my own world, and when I choose, I can film videos of myself, take creative photos, speak publicly.  But just as when a little girl--right when my stubborn will decides.

And then I watched a gymnastics recital from when I was about six years old.  This was perhaps the most telling.  The first shot, I am sitting exactly as the teacher was--arms crossed over my knees, my dangling legs again crossed at the ankles, my back straight and off my chair, and my chin held high in anticipation of the activities that would display my hard work over the course of our classes.  I was first in line to perform every skill, and I had the face of a soldier headed in to battle.  My every move was calculated, precise and with eagerness and attention to "doing it right."  My mom, of course, thought this was absolutely adorable, but I saw what was really happening--I was a little girl so desperately eager to please my gymnastics coach, my parents, my peers, a little girl wound up so tight around being the "good little student" that everyone told me I was.  I was so determined to perform with excellence that I could hardly enjoy the experience.  There was very little of that glimpse into my recital where I allowed myself to just intrinsically enjoy being a six-year old in gymnastics--I was there for everyone else.  I am 27 today, and have dealt largely with this trait, but there are still hints of this inclination that I am forced to face on a regular basis.

But the videos are evidence.  I am me through and through.  

I also watched others on camera.  Seeing the slight indications or glaring tips of everyone's personality was thoroughly enjoyable.  Loved ones passed danced across the screen and their memories came alive in my heart as though we were together again.  Images of youth rang strong, as my much-younger-then grandparents bounced around at birthday parties, Christmases, and family gatherings.  

My sister was absolutely adorable.  I watched our dynamics unfold and develop over the years and saw the traces of the friendship we now share that were rooted in our interactions in the early days.  She was beautiful, precious, gentle, and endearingly bashful.  Today, she is still beautiful, precious, surprisingly gentle, and--although perhaps undetected by outsiders--still a bit endearingly bashful.  We were taught how to care for each other and I really do think we were something like best buddies.  She is now my closest confidant and one of my most cherished counselors.

As if for the first time and after years gone-by, I saw the way my mom's caring, gentle hand would brush our hair across our faces or gently stroke our backs as we obliviously carried on with our lives--in that moment so naively unaware of the abundant love she poured on us--and this refreshed point of view made the love I have for her swell in my heart.  She loved us so incredibly.  Her care was almost oozing out of her from the screen.  And I watched her watching herself, but her love was no surprise to her.  Yet for me--I was amazed.

And I watched my dad.  His steady hand, patient conduct, and soothing presence stood out so strong.  Something struck me about his manner behind the camera.  Perhaps my deduction came in observation of the contrast to my behavior, but he was so utterly humble on camera.  He never needed to steal the limelight, nor say too much.  But he also never seemed to particularly avoid the lens or be intimidated by the idea of himself being filmed.  He was just there--so easily, humbly and true.  There was no pretension to his demeanor, and no lofty air in his conduct.  He was so comfortable in his own skin, and it was so cool to observe.

Seeing all of this gave me an overwhelming sense of gratefulness for the life I have lived and love I have experienced.  I found pieces of me in the little girl I have always been, I saw aspects of the dynamics I missed being a child, and grew a stout appreciation for the role my family and friends have played in my life.  

I thought about these videos a lot over the following days--mostly remembering funny snippets, or reminiscing on some of the blessings brought on by the footage.  But I also began to steady on how much of me today was so much a part of me then.  From the smallest little intrigues, to my mannerisms, reactions, and appearance, to the even deeper core of my personality.  I began to wonder about change, and how far I have really come from that little girl.  Certainly, I have made many strides in various areas as a result of my experiences, education, and natural growth.  But those very deep layers of my personality that are so apparent to me in the video are even more complex facets of my being today.  I have now learned to cope with them, hide them, project them, protect them and even embrace them at times.  Yet I am still me, for better, for worse.  

I don't even begin to think that change for the better is beyond any of us at any point, and I certainly wouldn't put anything past the Love of God, so although I see tremendous hope for real change, I think the substance of change may be different than I once considered. 

I thought my pride, pretension and insecurity would be something that if I practiced hard enough and wanted to rid badly enough, would just vanish.  I thought it had maybe been a phase, or a coping mechanism, that would pass, or I would mature beyond.  But I see these presenting themselves at five and six years of age, and I am all of 27 years-old now (I know--not that old), and still have to deal with these issues.  I am getting better at recognizing the sneaky areas where these vices will rear their ugly heads and I am more aware of the patterns that have, in the past, lead to indulging or justifying the ramifications of these behaviors.  But I think these videos taught me something about the nature of change.  

For, iron cannot become copper, and copper cannot become gold (baring an alchemist).  

But an iron rod can become a useful hammer.  

A copper plate can become a penny.  

And a golden nugget can become a ring.  

I can really only be exactly who I am, but I can always work on how I am.

And in realizing this, I felt an incredible sense of freedom.  It was as if the burden from the guilt of not quite having rid myself of all my vices after such effort was lifted.  

And then I remembered my dad.  He didn't seem to feel the inclination to apologize for who he was.  He had accepted that.  I am sure if you were to ask him, he would recognize that he is no more perfect than anyone else that the videos may have caught.  But he need not make excuses for where he was.  I think he may realize that this life is a path and we are all working our way through it.  

I want to be careful not to waiver too far to the other extreme of absolute ambivalence towards our shortcomings, but there is a peaceful beauty to the hopeful acceptance of them.  

And I think of the way I imagine Jesus to have been with people.  There is a profound humility to his presence that runs consistent in all of the Gospels. Although he works with an incredibly assured inditement, his grace and humility level His purposed mission.  I think of the way people responded to Jesus--sure, He has His enemies, those opposed to His claims--but the people that He met, those that had been cast out from society, broken, ostracized from the very roots of the faith He proclaimed that encountered Him and were changed.  They felt the acceptance and freedom in His manner, which was the very mechanism of their revival. 

I think of myself, and the person I want to be in this world.  The person I want to be for me, for God, and for His ultimate purpose.  I want to be free like Jesus.  Purposeful.  Assured.  Yet human.  

I have so much yet to learn.  And so much more to grasp.  Yet in allowing myself the freedom offered in the person of Jesus, I come to understand how my own shortcomings, and my personal journey with them, will lead me to be not only an iron rod, but a hammer.  Not only a copper plate, but perhaps a penny.  And not only a golden nugget, but maybe one day a golden ring.  

Stay Dusty.