This week I started reading Kristin Hannah’s book The Great Alone and was caught by a phrase at the end of the second chapter, “Mama was Leni’s one true thing.” That set me to wondering whether everyone has “one true thing” and if so, what is mine?
Through my life I’ve had lots of enthusiasms and lots of ways to identify myself. Girl, sister, daughter, Christian, student, musician, gardener, nurse, wife, mother, seeker, widow, lover, hiker, bookworm, poet, organizer, friend, mourner, optimist. And then what about other people? How do they identify themselves and what difference does it make? How do we know our truest essence. By what we believe? What we say? What we do? And what becomes of our deepest truths when our actions are not congruent with our values? What do I need in my life to be whole, and what could I jettison without losing my identity?
I remember a few years ago going to a workshop about death where we all participated in a disturbing activity. We wrote down five things of great value to us, activities, relationships, talents, objects or whatever, and then were made to discard them one at a time at intervals. This, the workshop leader said, was the work of dying. Losing ourselves one quality at a time. Becoming disconnected from our lives, grieving who we had been and redefining our essence. I hated that activity. I didn’t want to give up any part of my life then and I still don’t want to. But perhaps it was a wise exercise. After all, it has stuck with me subconsciously for a long time. So today when I hit that phrase about the “one true thing” I thought it might be time to take another look at what most deeply defines me.
Sitting in a wooden rocker on a breezy porch I gaze at the trees up and down the street, at the cars going past, at the sun moving over the roofs and wonder exactly why I am here, what my purpose is on the planet. The Celtic Way of seeing would have me as a part of the whole of life, no more or less a part of creation than any other living thing, everything around me infused with the spirit of God. Yet as a human with a mind capable of reflection I want more. I want this life to mean something, preferably something I can recognize and appreciate while still here in my body.
But we don’t always get that clarity. Some of us barely entertain questions of meaning in our lives, especially in the first half of our lives. We just live the patterns of our careers and family structures and locations. And some of us live and die without ever recognizing the ripples our individual lives leave behind. We must realize that we are in a narrative that is not ours alone--we are also secondary actors in other people’s stories, bit part players instead of the star. And it is good for our all-too-robust egos to stand back sometimes and see our lives as if on a bigger stage.
So in our search for meaning it is also important to discover how others see us. Not just our roles, like trash collector or teacher or accountant or golf pro, but our qualities. Reliable, generous, accurate, wise, truthful, forgiving, kind, philosophical. And it’s also important to recognize our shadows, which others see more clearly than we do. Qualities like self-absorbed, exacting, critical, overbearing, fearful, judgemental. We are both the good and the bad, and we are unavoidably products of our backgrounds and locations and places in history. We truly are part of the great web of life, and recognizing that carries with it a responsibility to live with integrity and harmony. Indeed we are all “bit players” but with more than a bit of responsibility to the greater whole.
Which brings my musing full circle to the original question--what is my one true thing? Who am I here to be? Not just for my own sake but for the sake of my family, my community, and ultimately the Earth?
I challenge you to go on an inside adventure this season, inside yourself. To find your own unique kernel of identity and then to listen closely to those who know you best. What do they know about you that you have not seen? What ripples are you leaving in the world?
Blessings on your journey,
Eileen Terry is a Celtic Way collaborator.