Once, I was at the reception of a hospital and I kept on insisting that I wanted to see a specific doctor. There were two nurses right there and one of them mentioned a different doctor. I wasn’t even listening to what they were saying but I requested for the third time that I want to see this specific doctor. The nurse then assured me they’d heard me. However, I was taken aback by my own insistence and thought, ‘It must suck for the other doctor doesn’t it? Always being ‘the other’? The second option?’ Perhaps he doesn’t even care one bit about that. Probably never even crossed his mind. I mean, he’s still getting his checks at the end of the month, doesn’t he? Fat, huge checks. But then, I know what it feels like to be overshadowed by someone else. Be an extension of who someone else is, rather than being a complete human on your own. Be a separate figure yourself without necessarily being associated with another human being.
Without ever meeting this other doctor, without knowing what he is capable of, or what his experience is, I just decided that he wouldn’t be as helpful as the other one. Based on what? Simply because the other one is reknown for his abilities and he isn’t. Instead of giving him the opportunity to be himself, I automatically placed him adjacent to his colleague; who he is (unfairly so because he has never treated me) compared to this reknown doctor. Yet, if this specific doctor wasn’t available, I would still see the other one, wouldn’t I? The other doctor…For a moment there, I felt bad for the other doctor. He really doesn’t need it but I couldn’t help but think about him. That small thought grew into a stream of other, sometimes unrelated, thoughts. About us humans, beings shadows and extensions of other people or things or even events. For example, how we refer to a lady as ‘So and so’s second wife’ even when the first wife was long divorced or dead instead of just calling them by their name. How are we minimizing someone’s existence to simply being an extension of the first wife? Or you know how we would keep referring to someone as ‘the one who was raped’ or ‘the one whose mother drowned’ rather than who they really are? Someone with traits and dreams and lots of magic.
It made me think, if someday I stopped being strokes of my pen, stopped being friends with the people I am friends with, stopped being thee professional beggar, stopped being someone’s daughter, teacher, student, helper…what am I then? If all these connections, relationships, titles, achievements, events were stripped off me, who will SEE me? If my face became disfigured and my cheek muscles wouldn’t let me smile anymore…If I stepped out of the shadow I have always been engulfed in, when I stop being what everyone knows and expects from me, when my glory and youthful days are gone, will I be pleased with what I will see? Only skeletons and soul, how good am I then?
I was reading the trending story of Stephanie (Tanqueray) on ‘Humans of New York’ page and there’s this particular bit that really struck me: “I can’t tell you the last time I danced burlesque. It wasn’t some big thing. They don’t throw a retirement party at the Sheraton. The phone just stops ringing. It gets quieter and quieter until one week it’s so quiet that you sorta decide you can make more money doing something else…” It moved me because I realized we’ll all get here someday, one way or another, whichever profession you are in or whichever way you live your life. Someday, your beauty will be gone, your profession that you worked so hard for will be gone, most people you knew or cared about will be mere memories and even when you’re surrounded by loved ones and family, you feel lonely (no new information here really but do we really understand the depth of it all?). All your life you held onto this identity of who you are; a writer, a doctor, a mother, a student, a friend, a baker…whatever it is that you are. Or you stayed under the shadow of one event that changed the entire course of your life; an accident, abuse, a major success, a child, love, a friendship, a career, and once that is gone, once you detach yourself from this event or person, you realize you don’t know who you are without it.
Stephanie’s story was really a survival story of a girl who ran away from home at the age of 18 (now 76) and became a very famous dancer. She eventually gained the fame, the glory and the money. She was and is without a doubt, beautiful, yet at some point she says: “Everything was fine when the music was playing. When people were laughing and clapping and shouting for more. But I knew I was tanking. Even when I was on the stage, and having fun- I was tanking. Some nights I’d go back to the dressing room, and look in the mirror, and I’d realize that I don’t even exist. Nobody’s clapping for Stephanie. They’re clapping for Tanqueray (her stage name). And sometimes I’d get so depressed thinking like that, I’d just start crying. I’d feel like running away and hiding from everyone. At least when I was a kid, I could crawl under the card table with my dolls. But that pretend s*** wasn’t working anymore. I was too old to fake like someone cared for me. But whenever I started to fall apart, I’d pull myself together and think about how lucky I was to be Tanqueray. At least I was successful. At least I had a career. At least when I’m Tanqueray, and I’m around people, I make them smile. I make them laugh with my stupid jokes. They’re not trying to hurt me. But Tanqueray never came home with me. She always stayed out on the stage. It was Stephanie that walked out the back door, and nobody cared about her…” (You can read the very intriguing story ‘Tattletales from Tanqueray’ on ‘Humans of NY’ Instagram page)
When you’ve lost it all in life, when you can no longer afford fancy lunches and expensive getaways with friends, when you’re too tired your feet hurt, when conversations exhaust you, when words can no longer suffice, when the romance with your spouse has died, when your children have grown to have families of their own, when your career is but a cherished memory, who will SEE you then? When all is said and done, when you’re frail and helpless, when all you have remaining is memories of the past, will someone still care about you? Who will love you; this bare, naked soul of yours then? As Rumi once said, “I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.”
Mitch, Stephanie’s son says at the end of her story: “At all times, people are doing one of two things. They’re showing love. Or they’re crying out for it.” He is right. We just want to be SEEN.