Monday, October 5, 2009

How Comfortable Are You with Yourself when No One Else Is Around? (A Lesson for My Daughter)

This weekend my children and I took on the project of collecting and sorting the many pictures that can be found in numerous locations throughout our home. Over the years, we seem to have amassed an absolutely massive quantity of pictures. They are stuffed in drawers, hidden away in shoeboxes in the back of closets, stacked neatly in stuffed manila folders and big envelops in file cabinets; they threaten to overwhelm us, so we sought to remedy this problem.

Of course, it was a tedious process, but looking at the old pictures allowed us to reminisce just a bit and even have a good laugh or two. But there was one set of pictures that caught the interest of my children.

Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my closet was a shoebox filled with a number of pre-wife and kids photos. And as they sorted through the photos, they had a lot of questions about my life then. In fact, they even found a group of photos of a young Max in an Amsterdam café. This one took a considerable amount of explaining.

Anyway, at one point my daughter paused to comment on how happy I seemed then. She observed that I always seemed to be at a party or I always seemed to be surrounded by a large group of people. And as I took a look through the photos, I realized that she was right. I guess I had never really noticed before.

I had no individual shots; all the pictures were group shots featuring me at the center, broadly smiling, my arms around the shoulders of this person or that person. The narrative these pictures told made it appear that I was having the time of my life.

However, the funny thing about pictures is that they can only capture the superficial. They can only capture the outward appearance, the façade of a person, in that fraction of a second it takes for the shutter to open and close. They can tell the supposed narrative the person being photographed would like for you to believe at the time, but this narrative is always in question.

So, in case my daughter got the tacit message that spending an afternoon in an Amsterdam café constitutes real fun, or that one needs to be surrounded by crowds of people to be happy, I had to sit down and tell her the truth.

Yes, I seemed to be having the time of my life. Yes, I seemed to be always surrounded by crowds of people. But the truth is I desperately needed those crowds. The truth is I could not stand to be alone with myself. That is why I spent so much time with others. That is why I was always the last to leave the party. I dreaded being alone with myself because then I would have to face the real me replete with too many fears and insecurities to even mention.

Now I know a great many people, but very few do I count as friends. We speak and talk about issues and common interests, and we come together over the various projects I am involved in, but when it is all over, I wave goodbye and find my way home.

My wife and children and my brothers and sisters are those whose company I most welcome. I do have one or two good friends I spend time with every now and then, but otherwise, I prefer to be alone.

Not that I am a misanthrope or anything; however, I like who I am now. I am comfortable with myself. And every now and then, just like this very moment, I just like to sit and think and explore my thoughts and get to know myself a little better.

Back then, I played at happiness. And I acted the part very well as long as there was a supporting cast around. But now I truly am happy. People and friends and crowds have their place, but they do not necessary correlate to true happiness. What really matters is how comfortable you are with yourself when no one else is around.

Love yourself and be a blessing to somebody.


md20737 said...

Max you are keeping it too real with this post. I know people like that and they are my father and boyfriend.

My father lives within 10 min of all his brothers and sisters and he rarely visits or speaks with them on the phone but we speak daily. He often goes out on the town alone with no problem, he has friends but he just doesnt have to be around all the time bc he prefers to be alone too. My boyfriend same way.

I have become like them I guess after spending so much time with them. They both know I require quality time so they give it to me and then go to thier respective corners going about thier days. Great post & great convo to have with your daughter.

Jara said...

Max, I finally figured out how to comment! Yay! But enough about me (and my browser scripts)...

What a beautiful post. I love how honest you are about you with yourself, your daughter and us.

I've always been more comfortable with my own company than others...ever since I was a baby, I'm told. So it took awhile for my friends to catch up to me. Don't get me wrong, I went to parties...but it always struck me as strange that people had to drink or get high in order to socialize. Most of them confessed to me privately that they do it because they're not comfortable socially, need to loosen up, etc. But yet they needed to be in a large crowd. Paradoxical...

So after reading your post, now I understand. They might be like the old (or young) Max.

Maybe we're in large crowds searching for those who are on our wavelengths enough to relax, let our guards down and be ourselves.

It sounds like you've found that in your family.

msladydeborah said...

What a great read while enjoying my evening cup of Maxwell House.

I am the only child of an only child. I feel so comfortable being solo. It is far more natural to me than crowds of people.

I socialize and I am blessed to have a wonderful family and friends. But, I like myself well enough to spend many hours on my own.

Plus that I have some pleasures in life that are strictly my own. Whenever I want to see an art show or go to a theatre production-I'm out. I have a good male friend who travels with me. But there are times when I want to see a chick flick or have a great meal all on my own.

People think that this is strange. I've learned that many females are uncomfortable with the idea of going out to eat alone or to the movies alone. I am cool with all of those type of activities.

I think that it just depends on how your head trip is about yourself. I've had years to be cool with me.

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