Posts Tagged ‘authenticity’

By Mark E. Snith

When I first met Chris at the medical center, I wasn’t sure what was up with him.

Chris sat next to me awaiting blood work. He was in his early 30s, with dreadlocks and crazy-colored basketball ball shoes. A sweatshirt and sagging pants rounded out his urban look.

His first words to me were, “Do you go up and down in your chair for fun?” observing my power wheelchair’s elevating seat that takes me from sitting to standing height.

I gave him my standard answer, that it’s really about increased independence and social inclusion.

“I get that,” he said with enthusiasm. “But, if it were me, I’d be going up and down all day long for fun.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of him. His comment seemed a bit odd but totally sincere. At that moment, though, a nurse came out and embraced Chris with a big hello. I’ve learned that, in medical settings, you can tell a lot about a patient by the way nurses respond to him or her. You sense who’s “family. “

With both of our blood work done, we waited for the results and I observed the way Chris interacted with everyone at the center. Medical centers typically aren’t upbeat affairs. No patient wants to be there and so jovial, happy people like Chris are not the norm. He was as though a door had opened and released all tension in the center as he fluttered about with smiles and greetings for all.

Children are rare at the medical center I attend. It’s not for pediatrics, so children are only there to support a loved one or brought by caregivers who don’t have babysitters. However, there’s a large, commercial aquarium in the waiting area, where children inevitably gather to watch the myriad of fish.

As a little girl stood staring at the fish tank, Chris walked up. He was twice her height, and you could see their reflections in the fish tank as they both stared into the glass, side by side.

“Have you ever tried to count fish in a tank?” Chris asked, pointing at the mixed pool of fish. “Watch…”

Chris began counting the fish one by one, and soon they scattered, to where he could no longer count them.

“You try, “ he said, and she did, the fish scattering again. “See, it’s impossible,” he said and the little girl laughed.

Chris’ girlfriend was with him, and as we waited, he’d jump on the other side of a glass partition and make funny faces. I couldn’t stop watching him and smiling.

Soon, both our names were called for our respective appointments. The center has a giant room with cubicles that administer various care. However, there are four private suites for those with more complex needs or privacy concerns. Based on my situation, cerebral palsy and all, I get a private suite for something as simple as a shot.

As my wife and I entered our private suite, Chris and his girlfriend entered the one next to us. Several nurses followed him in with a cart full of medical supplies like I’d never seen. He told me earlier that he had both multiple sclerosis and cancer – and the suite and the nurses and the cart hit it home to me, with heart-sinking gravity.

One could easily wonder about Chris, how is it that someone facing such profound health conditions and a seemingly unknown future can move through the world with such carefree joy?

In Chris and others, I’ve witnessed the answer: It’s not how much or how little we’re given in life, but how we view it all.

say-anything-main-review

By Mark E. Smith

When you have a disability like me, you get used to some referring to you as “brave.” Yet, there’s nothing intrinsically brave about disability, in itself. You have it, life goes on, no place for bravery.

However, the human experience requires tremendous – sometimes, stomach-churning – bravery if we are living authentically to our best. My daughter, at this writing, has three weeks to decide if she’s attending Pratt in New York City to major in photography, or George Mason in Washington D.C. to major in psychology. Those are not only two completely different college experiences, but totally different life paths. Imagine the bravery it takes for an 18-year-old to make such a decision.

Bravery, after all, is an inner-feeling spoken – there’s nothing scarier than that. For example, while my daughter deliberates colleges, there’s little on the line. However, once she discloses her choice, she’s committed to it – it will take bravery for her to utter the words, “Dad, I’ve chosen….”

But, let’s go deeper, let’s think about the bravest moments in our lives, feelings spoken. What do they sound like?

I’m falling in love with you.

I love you, but I’m not in love with you.

I just had to come over here and introduce myself.

I’m sorry.

I was wrong.

I wish I was who you need me to be, but I’m not.

I’m scared.

I need help.

I want a divorce.

Will you marry me?

I can’t.

I’m doing it!

The list goes on, and the words are different for each of us at vital turning points in our lives. Yet, the definition is a universal truth: bravery is a feeling spoken.

Here’s the real question, though: if bravery is a feeling spoken, what’s its impact on our lives?

Authenticity to ourselves. If we want to truly be ourselves, we must… well… be ourselves. We must be honest with our feelings, honest enough to vocalize them even when so much is at stake, when our deepest, sometimes scariest feeling are vocalized – and that takes the ultimate bravery.

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Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure. -John Legend

By Mark E. Smith

With the holidays approaching, and special friends visiting my home for an extended stay, my daughter and I started making a list of what we needed to do in order to make our house as perfect as possible.

See, for my daughter and me, our home is about love, laughter, understanding, and tranquility, so we haven’t cared that we have a sheet hung across the family room window because Rosie the English bulldog attacked the custom blinds, nor have we cared that the dishwasher has been broken for years (it’s just the two of us, so we don’t need a dishwasher!). We’re blessed with a very nice home, that’s neat and clean, and we don’t sweat the small stuff. We’re happy as-is.

However, with company coming, the list got longer and longer of ways to spruce up our 12-year-old home, all to impress our house guests. And, then I realized how unauthentic I was being, how I was putting priority on a shell of a house instead of the depth of my character and heart. My daughter and I want to spend time with those close to us, and replacing blinds and a dishwasher has nothing to do with it. The quality of one’s character is far more important than the quality of one’s house.

How many of us live such a facade in many aspects of our lives, where we present an image instead of just being ourselves – namely, because we don’t think others will embrace us if they see who we truly are?

The answer is, most of us. However, here’s the issue: if we hide or disguise ourselves, others don’t truly know us, and it creates a barrier for letting other people in. We live with secrets, isolation and in the worst cases, shame. Any aspect that we falsely polish or hide from others is like placing a wall between us and others. If we want the truest connections, we must be open and authentic to an extraordinary degree. Here’s the real me – take it or leave it, but at least I’m authentic. Life isn’t Facebook, where everyone’s life is a happy two-dimensional facade on a screen. To be authentic is to be real in every sense.

And, I think all of us have been unauthentic at times, both with ourselves and others. The solution, though, to both resolving it and avoiding it is to be totally authentic. Yes, some will reject us in the process, but most will embrace us.

In my own life, I strive to only be authentic. However, it’s not always easy, and I haven’t always succeeded. I’ve struggled this year with a very weighty subject in my life: my daughter will be heading off to college in the blink of an eye. Those around me have asked whether I’m prepared for that emotionally, especially since it’s just been the two of us for years, our lives so intertwined?

I give a very enthusiastic answer, that my daughter’s worked extremely hard toward college, that I can’t wait for her to flourish on her own. After all, it will be another amazing stage to witness as a parent. Yet, if I’m to be authentic, it’s truly only telling others half of my feelings – I’m not being honest.

The fact is, my daughter has been my foremost focus since the day she was born. Then, in being a full-time single father, she’s the better half of our dynamic duo, always a life force in our home. Girlfriends have come and gone, but it’s always been Shorty and me. No, I don’t know how I’m going to handle having my little girl, housemate and, really, best friend no longer around on a daily basis. I can picture Rosie the English bulldog and me just staring at each other on a Wednesday night, saying, What do we do now? Even if I’m living with a woman, I don’t see the transition being any less heartfelt. Yes, the thought of my daughter going off to college is unquestionably what I want and will be among my proudest moments. But, it’s also painful, scary and sad.

However, as I’ve opened up with friends about my complete feelings about my daughter eventually heading off to college, they’ve been extremely supportive and full of wisdom. Again, if we are going to live with authenticity, we must share our whole self, as-is, honestly, and people do reciprocate on such a genuine basis. In this way, opening myself up to others is like having guests in my home: I’d rather choose the imperfection of openness and joy over the tidiness of isolation and despair.

Of course, authenticity is ultimately about accountability, and that can be a struggle in itself. A great tool in that area is to surround yourself with people who will out of love call you on your behavior when you’re not being authentic. Both my sister and my best friend have called me on my behavior over the years – and rightfully so, as I’ve done some freakin’ stupid stuff. I remember being on the West Coast, feeling a lot of sadness over the ending of a serious relationship, and rather than being authentic and telling my friends that I was in a lot of pain, I went the rock star route, numbing myself with everything I could find as the life of the party. And, to his credit, without his being judgmental, my best friend soon pulled me aside and said, “I suspect there’s a lot going on in your life and it’s getting to you in unhealthy ways. It’s not the Mark I know.”

And, he was right. I wasn’t being authentic. Rather, I was being an emotional coward and dishonest. Fortunately, I was able to get myself back on track – arguably with greater clarity – all thanks to a true friend who believed in me and wasn’t afraid to call me on my falling off of the authenticity wagon.

None of us are perfect or immune to real emotions that tempt us toward going astray. I’ve been there and I still go there. However, recognizing the power of living to a higher standard – authenticity – and working at it in even the most challenging situations makes living as who you are a lot more rewarding.

My house isn’t perfect and neither am I. I need new blinds and a dishwasher, and Lord knows I’ve got my emotional issues. But, my home and heart are open, as-is, so come on in.