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I Am What I Am

Masks can serve two purposes: They can hide our true selves, or they can bring out our inner self, by which I mean, “that which we wish we were.” And that’s why costume parties can be so much fun. There is the fun part of creating our costume. Will we choose a costume that hides our true personality, or will we create a costume that reveals that which we wish to be? When we arrive at the party, what do we see? We no longer see our friends; rather, we see their hopes and desires. Maybe we see their fears. Or maybe we just see a fat man in a pink tutu smoking a cigar.

Carved into walls of the temple of Apollo at Delphi is the phrase that has been whispered throughout the centuries, “Know thyself.” But, yet, when we put on our costumes of daily life, we must ask, “Are we simply hiding from ourselves?” When I go to work, I could say, “Today, I am going to be a model employee. I am going to dress up, wear a tie, and act professionally.” But that’s not who I am. I’m not a model employee (to which my Rules for surviving the workplace testify). All my ties have cartoon characters on them. Act professionally? I barely act like an adult, let alone a professional.

No, that’s not who I am. So, I’ll throw on a pair of worn jeans, hoping nobody notices the tears in the seam at the crotch, a T-shirt, and a sweater covered in my Siberian husky’s fur. I’ll work hard at completing the daily tasks required of my job, but never forgetting to be as goofy as I can be. I respect my coworkers, but I always try to remind them not to take themselves so seriously. That’s who I am.

And that’s the second part–the unsaid part–of Wisdom’s eternal advice: it is not enough to know myself. I must be myself. And how can I be myself if I am constantly wearing a mask? How can I be Bob when I am constantly pretending to be Batman? Indeed, what role will I play in the drama of life?

We are soon going to share in the Passover….[L]et us take our part in the Passover prescribed by the law, not in a literal way, but according to the teaching of the Gospel; not in an imperfect way, but perfectly; not only for a time, but eternally….If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God….If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body….If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshiped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself. (Saint Gregory Nazianzen, quoted from the Liturgy of the Hours, v. II, p. 392. New York: Catholic  Book Publishing Corp., 1976)

I am not Simon of Cyrene, the repentant thief, Joseph, Nicodemus, one of the Marys, Salome, or Joanna. I’m simply Bob, trying my best to live a Gospel life. More often than not, I find myself stumbling and falling down. And I have learned that the trick is not to “not stumble.” Rather, the trick is to get back up. After all, stumbling is a given, especially if you are wearing a mask that obscures your vision.

A wise man once said, “I yam what I yam.” True words indeed.


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