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21 Grams

Last night I watched the finale of Season One of Six Feet Under. During one scene the matron of the caretaking family, Ruth Fisher, laments her ignorance—that is she complains that she is not sure if her son is gay (or not) and that he was not willing to be open about his sexuality with her.

A fellow viewer thought it was equally sad that the mother “did not know” her son. My response was to contend that most parents only know a certain side of their children and they are unlikely to ever know “all of them.” That is, as individuals we naturally choose to represent aspects of ourselves depending upon whom we are interacting with. It is much the same dynamic that occurs vice-versa—most children will likely never get to know the “adult” side of their parents. And as they mature themselves they not only come to understand why, but also may become more averse to knowing more about their mother’s or father’s private lives (“I just rather not know”).

Thus, for all our lives we may very well remain wholly ignorant of our parent’s secret passions and their lovers and all their other greatest desires (many of which they have repressed and sacrificed in order to serve and defer to what they felt was best for their children). Hence, we remain ignorant about what stands at the center of them, that is at least until they have passed away and we “accidentally” come across their journal and the all the love letters that they had lovingly tucked away over many years, inconspicuously hidden in the attic in some dark corner designated to that part of their lives that we never knew.

There are many sides to one self and anyone who believes otherwise is either delusional, in denial, a hypocrite or rather boring. Call it sides or levels or personalities, but unless we are mentally fractured, most people choose to selectively display elements of themselves depending on the time and place, and the people they are revealing themselves to.

Moreover, we are all constantly changing in the most subtle fashion, so to charge that others are being false because they have contradicted themselves may or may not be true, because it is quite normal for people to change their minds. However, because it is easier for people to deal with others if they know what to expect or can predict behavior of others (oddly enough, so that we can determine our own behavior) we tend to discourage whims and organic thought processes, and likewise discourage the growth of our ever-evolving selves.

In reality people are enlightened and come to see another side of an issue or a situation from a wholly different perspective quite often, especially if it is insight that is gained existentially. But since society dissuades change in order to ensure that we interact amicably, in a “civilized” manner, we tend to fall into the trap of encouraging homogeneity, conformity and stasis. Most of us are not bold enough to reveal our true selves the moment we change and perhaps begin to think, feel or believe something counter to popular opinion. And for those who are willing to take the risks of being distinguished or demonstrating their idiosyncrasies, the rewards are as fruitful as the opposition and penalties are never-ending.

But since most of us cower most of the time because we quickly learn the consequences of expressing ourselves as individuals, most people do not always reveal “who they are” to everyone. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that. Why is it necessary to know all of someone anyway? Besides, more often than not what we already know about others is too much, as what we already know can clash with our own person and end up irking us unnecessarily in some petty fashion. What we don’t know likely may never hurt us, so sometimes it is just better not to know.

Moreover, it is virtually impossible to know all of anyone anyway. For I would argue that the most substantial part of all of us is impalpable, evolutionary, and ever-changing. That is, our minds make up who we really are and are bodies (or rather body parts) are mostly replaceable.

Granted, as contended in the recent film 21 Grams, I will concede that the physical parts that make us whole—the muscles, the bones, the organs, our nerves and our blood—all are instilled with the formulas, ideas and conceptions of our minds over time. The peptides and hormones and synaptic connections emanating from the neuro-electrical activity of our great grey matter ultimately carry part of us in them as well.

Nonetheless, our minds remain the hub, the central space and fistful of tissue that creates who we really are by way of thoughts, predilections, desires, opinions and those dreams which we all too often too afraid to share with others—if only because we are consistently discouraged from being different from the moral majority.

Hence, who we truly are, that is—all of us—is quite inaccessible to others.

Unless, of course, one is prone to participate in some droll writing experiment in which she introspects and divulges what she discovers about herself to the world…

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