Have you ever grieved for something that you never had? It's a strange feeling isn't it? Like mourning the death of a person you never knew, and who therefore never died. Sometimes I grieve for abstract concepts. The one I'm yearning for right now is authenticity. I feel like I've noticed a lot lately the lack of this quality; people seem to spend a lot of time avoiding honesty. I was walking to work the other day (substitute teaching at the high school) and a man walking the sidewalk in the same direction asked me how I was. Such a common question, "How are you?," often said in passing and without the expectation of a reply. I didn't reply, because he was a stranger, and this is Germany, and Germans mostly just ignore each other on the street. Besides, it was early for me, and I'm never sure how I am before noon. But the stranger persisted, "You know, I ask people how they are, and they don't reply because they think I don't really care to hear the answer, but I do want to hear the answer." I laughed and reminded him this is Germany, where strangers do not speak. We fell into easy conversation then and parted ways at the kaserne gate, I feeling lighter somehow. The authenticity of his approach to connection was really refreshing; it is so rare to meet someone who actually makes you feel like they care, about this day, about other people, about life.
I noticed this disparity of authenticity when I was subbing that day at school too. Something seems to happen between 9th grade and 12th grade; there is a mysterious falling away of optimism. I taught various classes and grade levels that day, and I noticed the stark difference between the silly but endearing excitement of the freshmen and the moody ennui of the seniors. Whereas freshman boys were sitting in girls' laps and making inappropriate comments to the substitute, the senior guys were self-conscious and silent. The girls had changed from talkative flirts to pensive emos. Honestly, the seniors bored the hell out of me. I had a blast with the 9th graders, because they had not yet learned to self-edit their thoughts. They just said whatever they were thinking to whoever would listen. I pondered this difference all day and came the conclusion that too many heartbreaks dot the landscape of high school. By 12th grade, students have learned to believe their ideas don't count and their feelings are unpredictable and often destructive. Who teaches them these things? I suppose their parents and teachers are somewhat at fault, but mostly the problem is each other. Humans can be so ruthless to each other, and this ruthlessness seems to flourish in high school.
So we learn to self-edit. To say what we think others want to hear. I think back over 2009 and realize how much I've honed my own talent for omitting the truth. I've found that as my beliefs have changed, my authenticity has waned, because I know my audience, and my audience will not embrace my changes. And that begs the question, Am I an actor playing to an audience? Am I simply speaking the parts, delivering the expected monologue, wearing the required expression? I don't want to be an actor. I've never longed for dissimulation. I want very much to always be aware of my true self and honest about who I am. I'm done mourning. I want to walk into 2010 wide awake, aware, desirous of authentic connection with others, and willing to do the hard work of being real. Do it. You will feel better :)