Sense of self – part II

by tamarjacobson

Quote of the day:

Memories are moments that refuse to be ordinary. [Uncle Mary … My old friend, dancing and tennis partner way back when …]

Yesterday afernoon I spent an hour or so going through old photographs. As is always the case when I venture back in time, I become quite nostalgic, and find myself longing for those good old days. This time, though, I observed that when I was young I was really quite pleasant to look at! And yet, as I pored over the pictures one by one, I realized that during those moments that each photograph was being taken, I was feeling anything but pleasant to look at. Indeed, at those times, I was feeling more like I was too fat, clumsy, my clothes were weird or inappropriate, or, even, that I was plain old ugly.

I sat with my legs crossed on the carpet in my study, glued to those old photographs – mesmerized – as I thought back to how I perceived my appearance. I remembered how some members of my family used to call me a femme fatale, and I gasped. For the way I viewed myself back then was that I was lucky if anyone liked me or found me attractive at all. In fact, I was searching for love with a pathetic type of desperation, doing, thinking and feeling – being - anything people would have me be, just so they would like me. I certainly did not view myself as "attractive," or "a catch." I noticed, too, that I was even dressed in clothes that the people I was involved with at different times in my life, preferred me to wear! 

I was stunned. Of course, none of this is really new to me. I have known these things forever. These feelings are at the very core of my being. I developed them to survive as a child. I understand all of this. And yet, yesterday afternoon, surrounded by the photographs of 60 years passed, I saw my Self in a clearer light.

After looking at the photographs, I was feeling a little bewildered and disoriented. I donned a new dress I bought recently to attend a Thanksgiving dinner with a group of old friends – people who had taken me into their home and hearts when I first arrived in America 23 years ago. I felt awkward. It was not the type of dress I usually buy for myself, and it was a little shorter than I am usually comfortable with. "in fact," I thought, "I hardly ever buy dresses for myself." As I gazed at my reflection in the mirror, I understood that I am constantly trying to dispel the femme fatale myth – the shame I feel about my feminity or sexuality within myself. This dress accentuated my curves, had a soft silky texture. I felt like a woman in it. Not exceptionally good looking – but somewhat attractive for a woman my age – 62. Still struggling with feeling awkward and confused, I arrived at the dinner.

Before long, the friends' love and warmth enveloped me, and soon I even felt comfortable enough to sing out loud when it was time for the share-our-talents section of the evening. First, they begged me to sing a song they had remembered me singing over twenty years ago in their living room in Buffalo. I sang a little shakily at first trying to remember the words, but at the end they burst into thunderous applause, and I looked around at their glowing, smiling faces in amazement. Emotionally overwhelmed, I had difficulty singing the next song because tears were rising into my throat.

It is a different time for me as I seek my own sense of who I am – not as scary or challenging as it used to be when I was young. I am older now, a little wiser, and so much stronger emotionally. And in this Thanksgiving season this year, I feel most grateful for the years I still have left, for me to unlearn old messages, and dispel worn-out myths and perceptions of my Self.