“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – E. E. Cummings
I wholeheartedly agree. There are few things scarier than confronting who you really are.
In extremis, the mask slipped from the face…
In Year 10 English, I studied a brilliant play called “The Real Thing” by Tom Stoppard. It is largely a discussion around love, fidelity, and the nature of relationships. That line comes from it. The full monologue is pretty heavy, but that phrase – “In extremis, the mask slipped from the face.” has always stuck with me.
I was reminded of it as I thought about the courage needed to be truly ourselves. It is, in essence, opening ourselves up with all our flaws, all our vulnerabilities, all our doubts and all our aspirations, for the world to see. Obviously there is a bit of wiggle-room as to how far we open up, but I feel that truly, truly being who we are takes a courage not unlike sharing ourselves – love handles and all – with someone physically.
The passage in that play is all about physical intimacy, but I believe courage to become who we really are is almost like a mental, emotional intimacy. And what’s more, it starts with ourselves, before we share it with the world.
Sometimes I simply post one of these IQs with not much additional banter. Sometimes one of them will strike me differently, and almost force me to write more. It doesn’t mean they are worth any less if I don’t write much – just so you know.
The full monologue from “The Real Thing” is here. It is spoken by Henry, the lead male character. It is one of my favourite parts of the play, and is beautiful in its depth, despite the angst. Actually, the angst suits Henry perfectly, and suited me perfectly at the time in my life when I fell in love with this play.
It’s to do with knowing and being known. I remember how it stopped seeming odd that in biblical Greek knowing was used for making love. Whosit knew so-and-so. Carnal knowledge. It’s what lovers trust each other with. Knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face.
Every other version of oneself is on offer to the public. We share our vivacity, grief, sulks, anger, joy … we hand it out to anybody who happens to be standing around, to friends and family with a momentary sense of indecency perhaps, to strangers without hesitation. Our lovers share us with the passing trade.
But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other. What selves? What’s left? What else is there that hasn’t been dealt out like a pack of cards? Carnal knowledge. Personal, final, uncompromised. Knowing, being known. I revere that.
Having that is being rich, you can be generous about what’s shared – she walks, she talks, she laughs, she lends a sympathetic ear, she kicks off her shoes and dances on the tables, she’s everybody’s and it don’t mean a thing, let them eat cake; knowledge is something else, the undealt card, and while it’s held it makes you free-and-easy and nice to know, and when it’s gone everything is pain.
Have a beautiful day, and please be courageous. Growing up is totally optional, but becoming who you really are is, in my opinion, mandatory.