a mosaic of self

I have been doing a lot of traveling over break, visiting old friends that I haven’t seen in ages. I’m not the best at regular phone calls and keeping up with people, so it’s a good thing these friendships are the kind where you can pick up wherever you left off and things feel just like last time. This sense of comfort and familiarity is a lovely thing. Particularly in today’s culture, when so many people move around to totally new places: for work, for love, for scenery, for fun: it is nice to be back with people who have known you longer than the year or two you’ve been living in a new place. However, those same friends have also missed some of the latest things in your life, in your growth. I often don’t realize what they’ve missed because in that time of reuniting, we are transported back to the times we were together. Sometimes it’s directly, through the “Remember When?” game, or indirectly, through the patterns that the two of us have established together. Kind of like couples, friends can develop “scripts” and “roles” together. You act this way, and I act this way. When you say that sort of thing, this is how I respond. We generally don’t even realize we do this.

However, this has caused me to reflect on whether or not I feel like my real “self” in my old friendships. Perhaps it’s just my rosy backward-looking glasses, but didn’t I used to be so much more silly and carefree in college? Now I feel more serious, more thoughtful. Didn’t I laugh so easily back then? Wasn’t I so adventurous that year I lived in Boston, when the city was my oyster and the T could take me almost anywhere I wanted to be? Where did that girl go? And who am I now?

Likewise, I see myself “be” different people when I am talking to different people. With my roommates, I can be goofy, using silly voices and talking about ridiculous things. Is that me? With one friend, I am slowly drawn to excitability, feeling like a contrast to her animation until it finally infects me too. With another, I am steadfast and hardworking, stable and consistent. Is that me? With another, my more nurturing, but also sensitive and emotional, and easily hurt, side comes out. Can that be me, too?

In my current life, I often feel “overly responsible”: the type of person willing to do not only their own tasks, but probably other people’s tasks as well, if need be. (By the way, this is not ideal for me nor for the other person, whose own sense of agency I can take away when I do things for them). With my family, I sometimes feel “under responsible”: fuzzy-minded, letting them decide what’s going to happen, just going along for the ride. Is it just regression when you return home after being away?

I realize I’m not an open book. I share certain information with certain people. Some people are for discussing romantic relationships, but only as far in as I allow. Some people are for politics, or science. Some for daily life happenings. Some for religion. Some people I allow in to hear my real thoughts on spirituality. I am a fragmented glass, a mosaic of color. My colors look different depending what part you focus on. A different light reflects depending what angle you stand away from me. I seem to be divided, yet I am one person.

Who am I? I wondered today, feeling almost deceptive with the many faces I can wear, even though I’m not trying to intentionally deceive anyone, yet genuinely confused as to which is my “true” self. Then the phrase “true self” rang a bell, and I suddenly realized: it’s just personality. Who are YOU? My personality is like my exterior, my shell. It’s the way that I interact with the world. There are a lot of protective and defensive mechanisms I use to feel secure, and I developed certain habits in order to win praise, affection, or a sense of okay-ness from other people. That’s not my real self. My real, true self is not my personality. My personality is not all bad – I can be funny, sweet, helpful, kind – but it’s also not everything I am. And sometimes, the sharp edges of my mosaic-piece personality cut my own, or others’, fingers. I am beyond the faces you see. I am beyond the faces I see, the things I know about me that other people don’t, the contradictions that don’t even make sense to me. I am beyond the attachments that lead to hurt feelings or joy, jealousy or security. My core essence is rooted in something far beyond the way I always think about myself.

Think of it this way. Through a glass mosaic, or a stained glass, the colors are mixed and beautiful. But the colors only do their thing because of the light that is behind it. The true self is like that white light (which is really all the colors on the spectrum) that shines and illuminates all else. The mosaic is made of disparate glass pieces that can be beautiful, but are not in themselves illuminative. I need to stop confusing the glass with the light. It’s just personality. My true self is like that illuminating light.

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