Over the course of the last day and a half, I have had a single statement rolling around in my mind. “I define who I am. Despite my best efforts, others will define what I am.” Its a really difficult statement for me to spend time looking over. I have fought very hard to learn the roles that I currently occupy in my life. Even when I want to shake that role off completely – such as my difficulty dealing with the conceptual aspects of being a Priest. I have spent an awful lot of intellectual – and spiritual – capital in accepting and (eventually) embracing who I am now, and who I am to become in my future.
I fought for the understanding of those roles, and damnit, that’s where I am going! I am not going to let a minor bump in the road dislodge me from who I am and who I will be. And that works for me. I understand all of that/ I even understand when things get a little overwhelming, and I need to take a break for a short while. Every bit of that has been difficult, including the parts where I have had to learn to adult when I didn’t want to. I have argued with myself, disagreed with others, and even had my moments of crisis, where I doubt everything I have done that has provided me with the steps on this Path in Life. But nothing prepared me for the shock of realizing that much of who I am to the outside world comes not from me, but from the perception of others. The outward depiction of me comes from how other perceive me. They get to define me in that manner.
Much like when anything comes about that is a major shock, even if just momentarily, I had my doubts. Uh-uh. No way. I manage the who of me. Those roles are handled by me. But the outward perception is not controlled by me – though I can provide some indirect effect. But let’s not head that far just yet. People get a perception of who I am by the way I interact with them, by the way I appear to them, by the manner in which we communicate with one another. And a large part of this comes down to the manner in which I dress.
See, I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of person. This is the most comfortable attire for me, and it places me in some sense of being “casual”. But that is not the most professional way to look; hence, the reason that I cannot dress like this at work. And when it comes to ritual, it is not the most credible way to dress. Yeah, whether I like it or not, wearing a cloak with a Ren-faire style shirt with black jeans tends to be a more appropriate manner to dress for public ritual than my “happier” attire of a “Dancing Terrapins” t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. that is not my expectation, but one that seems to be more appropriate in the eyes of others at public gatherings.
People are going to define what I am, by my outward appearance, and by the way I comport myself at public gatherings (and some private ones). There is a certain air of seriousness that one approaches ritual, as well as serious discussion. Even when you have two Trickster Gods around you, as well as one of the flirtiest Goddesses waving at you from the edge of the tree-line. Coyote, Crow, and even Fliodhas can make ordinary moments….well, “interesting” and difficult for keeping a straight face. And that can be rather testy when you are wanting others to take you seriously as a Priest, a Polytheist, and a Pagan.
But that’s what I mean – others will get the opportunity to define what I am by how they perceive me. And I can agonize over this as much as I want to – and I would like to think that I don’t – but the matter isn’t how I perceive myself. Its how they perceive me. Like I said…I would like to think that it does not matter that much to me. But it does, just not as much as I thought it might.
Which is why its a moment that really brought a touch of shock to me. I have always steeled myself against the opinions of others, by noting that what I define myself as was all that really mattered. The perspective of others didn’t matter. But when this thought popped into my mind, and I started to turn it over and over – I realized that I was shielding myself from an aspect of the truth. It may not be a big factor in how I perceive myself, but it is there. And honestly, its far better to be truthful with myself over something like this, than it would be to continue with my self-narrative.