The Privilege of a Lifetime

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” ~ Joseph Campbell

I came upon that quote and as I lay awake in my hospital bed at 3 a.m. a few weeks ago. I wondered, how privileged am I for being me? And, more troubling, who exactly exactly am I?

It had been a while since I’d checked in with myself and it seemed I had some outdated perceptions of Pat Moriarty.

It started when I got out of bed and took a long look at myself in the mirror. The face staring back was not altogether familiar to me. It was the face of an old, tired-looking soul, not someone in the prime of life.

And to think — that was my face.

So my head did what my head does and started trash-talking me, sending me downer messages like, “Pat, you’ve never liked yourself. Haven’t you always dreamed about being someone else?

And to think — those were my words.

The poet E. E. Cummings helps explain such reactions:

“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

Yeah — it has been a battle. 

I remember I wasn’t but eight years old when, for the first time, I looked into the mirror and saw the face of someone I DIDN’T WANT TO BE.

I wanted to be Mark Tolan, an older boy on our block.

He was the cool guy.

  • cool looking
  • cool clothes
  • cool talk
  • cool everything

Pat Moriarty was not cool and every day I worked hard at NOT BEING Pat Moriarty. 

Emerson observed a person can spend a lifetime pretending to be someone they’re not: Nothing is more rare in any man than an act of his own. It is quite true. Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” 

I saw I needed a little updating on who I was in the here and now. I began by updating what had become of those with whom I once would’ve traded my life.

Ouch! Now that was a sobering exercise, for life had dealt a hard hand to many of my former idols. — Like my childhood neighbor, Mark Tolan. He never lived to see his thirtieth birthday.

Suffice it to say, I was damn glad I never got my wish to trade my life for any of theirs.

The more I turned these questions over in my mind the more I reckoned the original model of Pat Moriarty has been pretty much a-okay. The time I spent wanting to be someone else was pretty much — time wasted.

I got to wondering how much happier I might have been as a younger man if I’d concentrated more on living my own life than imitating the lives of others.

If we took as much pains to be what we ought as we do to disguise what we are, we might appear like ourselves, without being at the trouble of any disguise at all. We are so used to disguise ourselves to others, that at last we become disguised even to ourselves.” ~ Francois La Rochefoucauld

So my 3 a.m. wake-up call in the hospital reminded me — It’s ALWAYS within my power to work with the self I actually am. I can reflect, I can grow, I can practice being a better friend to myself. So I need to check in more frequently and keep myself up to date on me. Then I can age with dignity and, dare I say it, joy.

Now, if you need a little help, here’s a great reminder…

Now, that’s the privilege of a lifetime.

Just a thought…


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