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who am I to sit and wonder
by stuart zitin

I often feel like an impostor. There are times, unbidden, when, like a deja-vu, the feeling comes over me, of not fully recognizing who I am—when I am speaking, for example. Yogis call it the observer. It is as though I have left my body, and I am watching this person I do not know, relating to others, whose reactions I must note in order to figure out who this person is. This only happens when I am with others, as if I only exist when I relate, or the opposite (same thing): that I do not question who I am when I’m alone.

I heard Terry Gross interview a writer whose-name-I-forget describing his “writer’s dilemma.” As he observes people in their element, participating with them in their lives, he generates material for his stories. Furthermore, he said, the very act of stepping outside of the scene to commit it to memory, saving it for later development, keeps him feeling like he is not fully involved, not experiencing the richness of life. I often feel as if I’m missing something, like all there is is remembering incidents, rather than living them.

Perhaps that is the origin of wondering who I am. Not the existential, “What is my purpose,” but, “In addition to my experiences, who else am I?” What is the essence of who I am? What else does one see in me after learning my history – the cards I was dealt (chose) and how I play them. I’m not so much talking about personality, or behavior, or even ego or consciousness, as much as my heart, my innermost yearnings, my path.

After all, how can we truly know how others see us? How can I even know that when we look at the same thing, we see the same color – that even our objective, much less our subjective, perception would agree? How often we argue, rehashing our version of events, opposing that to the views of another; even when discussing what just happened, we sometimes remember it differently. Our judgment is affected by our preconceived views (bias); our reality is created by our perception, our awareness by our attitude.

So these memories that invade me more and more frequently as I age can be very specific: a moment of conversation, a fragment of music, my mind’s snapshot of a place, almost always with someone else in the picture. Imagining, “What if I knew then what I know now?” Recreating the scene in my mind’s eye, as though seeking atonement or even a different outcome. Wistfulness. Again on Fresh Air I heard a 60-year-old jazz saxophonist talk about how time can be strange: “When I was 17, playing with cats who were 30, I thought they were old. Old! Can you believe that?” Time seems to speed up as I get older, and at the same time, events in the way past seem so vivid, almost recent. One summer my then 9-year old and I were talking about the winter coming, and I said it’ll be here quickly, and he replied, “Not for me. Four months is a long time!” It is all relative. Perspective is everything.

So after all these years, I’m still an adventure-monger – a product of my times. Generally when there’s been the opportunity to do something new, risky, out-of-the-ordinary, I have chosen the experience, not impetuously, but with forethought and curiosity a-plenty. Now that others depend on me (my wife and children, my mother and sisters, my co-workers and clients, even my dog), I have slowed down a bit. I am a bit more conservative, less impulsive, more considerate. In those ways, I am more wedded to the status quo; change is challenging, habits die hard. Nevertheless, I strive to continually look within, check myself out, evaluate my progress. Sometimes the goals elude me. Is it to be happy? Healthy? Have greater impact? Be more loving? Forgive? Co-create a more compassionate world? Or just to “love the ones I’m with?”

In Mark (Kurt’s son) Vonnegut’s autobiography The Eden Express, he attributes his (my) generation’s college education as giving one the dubious ability to “talk with nearly anyone about nearly anything.” People have always interested me - their ideas and their hopes. One of my heroes, Studs Terkel, has devoted his long, prolific life to talking with and listening to people. I read his works voraciously, like Working, Division Street, Hard Times, The Good War, Race, all profiling the human condition. I often put myself in another’s shoes to try to understand them, and respond as well as possible, either in friendship or in business. I know that what stresses me does not necessarily stress you, but I imagine that our stress, once felt, feels similar to each of us. I know we’re connected, both of God.

Meantime, I want to be fully immersed in life, in my life, in my life with others. Yes, I often stand on the sidelines and observe, for I have come to see myself as the introvert that I am. I derive more energy from being alone, than from being with others. At the same time, I want to enjoy, totally enjoy the experience of being here now. I want to know I am here, with you, at this moment, and I want to remember the details and the richness.

Sometimes I feel like an impostor. Who am I to speak with authority about my life?

Stuart Zitin is a husband, father, and son, as well as a dog guardian, who walks in the woods every day, thus remaining relatively sane. He is a licensed general contractor, interested in affordable, green housing, and lives in Asheville.
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