Who Do You Want To Be?
Last week my dear friend Nydia invited me to go to a seminar with her in Philadelphia, and because it was Nyd, and because we were going to get a Center City burger before the seminar, I eagerly agreed to go. The subject matter of the seminar was “relationships” and although I used to be a psychologist, and thought I had some expertise in the subject, I never forgot what I used to tell my students at Warren County Community College: “We talk like we know. We act like we know. We think we know. We don’t know.” There’s always something to learn.
It was a good seminar even though a chunk of it was dedicated to selling people spots in upcoming seminars. Among the ideas raised was “who do you want to be” Interesting way of phrasing it. Not “what do you want to do?”
I gotta’ be me! I gotta’ be me! What else can I be but what I am? Words of wisdom from Frank Sinatra – or was it Steve Lawrence? It wasn’t Nat King Cole, I know that. Perry Como? Alright, I’m sticking with Sinatra and if I’m wrong write me a caustic, nasty reply on this blog and I promise to ignore it.
What an incredible question: who do you want to be? We always ask kids “what do you want to do when you grow up?” We never ask what do you want to be? So what do you want to be? What do I want to be? We’d get answers like “I want to be happy.” “I want to be loved and I want to love.” “I want to be appreciated and show appreciation.” “I want to be generous.” “I want to be calm.” “I want to be trusted.” I’m sure you can add generously to this list and I think that would be a good idea.
I’ve been blessed in my life to have a handful of folks who have answered that question with abundant persuasiveness, likely without consciously addressing it, but stating it in the way they live their lives. My family, Dad, Mom, brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces and the boys in my life (Josh, Ryan & Isaac) all showed me who the “be.” Some great friends, co-workers and colleagues also gave me cause for gratitude.
This week I was in touch with my beloved buddies Marcia and Linda who I worked with in the Child Study Team at Warren County Tech a few lifetimes ago. These two are certainly included in the group I described above and they reminded me of the one year anniversary of the death of another beloved member of that team, Helen Liebow. Today I’m reflecting on how Helen answered the question “who do you want to be?”
Helen was an exceedingly beautiful woman in every sense of the word except the conventional sense of the word. The woman was incredibly loving, gentle, deeply caring, her compassion was abundant, tolerance overflowing, humorous, smart and amazingly generous. With Helen, you never needed to worry about the conversation running dry. All you had to do was say “Good Morning” and she’d take it from there.
Helen asked a lot of questions and often one right after another not giving time for an answer. She wasn’t being rude, that’s how her mind worked. She laughed a lot and didn’t spare herself as the target of her humor. I’m going to use the word “be” again: it was so easy to be around her. Did you catch how that sounded in that last sentence? Who I was being when I was around her, was somebody that I liked being.
Helen, being such a warm, caring, humorous person, it would stand to reason that her life was easy with an absence of struggles. Considering her generosity it would stand to reason that she was a person with substantial financial depth. It may stand to reason, but it wasn’t the case. Helen struggled for years with a myriad of very serious health problems. There was no hidden cache of cash either. Without going into detail, Helen never had a comfortable day, never had it “easy” but somehow managed to take circumstances that would sour the strongest among us, and still be sweet through and through.
I miss my friends that I rarely see since my work was outsourced, at the same time Helen, Linda and Harvey were outsourced. It was done to save money and there was no political agenda or avarice in the decision. Oh, look at that: a pig just flew past my window. I miss Helen.
When I think of who I want to “be”, I can’t completely answer that question, but I hope that being with Helen gave me direction and a model of who I want to be. People just don’t “be” better than her.
What do you want to be? Do you have a Helen in your life? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or put a reply on this blog. Also, if you know who sang “I Gotta’ Be Me” I’d like to know that too. Prof. Dave