brown wooden planks

Who Are You?

Halloween 1997. I began planning my costume in August.  I would be a flower child, a good old-fashioned hippie. My goal was authenticity. I did not want to look like I was wearing a costume; I wanted to embody my inner hippie. I purchased a Bohemian dress from a thrift shop and accessorized it with peace jewelry, hippie sandals, and of course, a flower headband. When I arrived to work, a coworker had also dressed as a hippie. She wore a tie-dyed t-shirt, a beaded headband, a ratty wig, and a pair of round, John Lennon sunglasses. The entire department recognized her as a hippie.  But for some reason, they saw me as Pocahontas.

Hell yes, I was pissed! I was so authentically hippie that I might’ve time traveled straight from 1960’s Woodstock. On the other hand, my colleague looked like she’d pieced her costume together from the Halloween aisle at Wal-Mart. I asked the others what specifically about my costume made them think I was Pocahontas.  I wore no feathers, pelts, moccasins, fringes, or beads, nor did I have two braids in my hair.  No one could give me a single reason why they thought I was Pocahontas, other than the obvious fact that my skin is brown.  Then in the heat of the debate, someone asked me, “Why not just be Pocahontas since that’s how everyone sees you anyway?”

“So, you’re saying just not be who I am because you guys want me to be someone else? I’m a hippie, dammit!”

The intensity of the moment was dampened when another colleague said, “You guys do realize that you’re arguing over a costume!” She was right, but the fact remained that I had been meticulous in pulling this costume together, and someone suggested that I should just be someone else.

Then later that day, something interesting happened.  I was on the elevator with two international colleagues, and one of them smiled and said, “Oh, what a pretty gypsy you are!”  Still a bit salty over the whole Pocahontas thing, I thanked her but explained that I was not a gypsy. Then I asked the other person what she thought I was. “Garden nymph… you know… how do you call… fairy.” When I told them I was a hippie, neither knew what a hippie was. When I tried to explain, the second lady suggested again that I was describing a fairy. We laughed and let it go, but the day’s activities struck me enough that I wrote about them in my journal.

It’s comical now to think how upset I was that people had disrespected my costume as if they were disrespecting me. Over the ensuing years, I came to understand that whether or not it’s Halloween, we are all in costume every day. Our true identities are so deeply hidden beneath multiple dimensions of self, that many of us have no idea who we really are. Instead, we are completely identified with our costumes, and we go to war to defend them. We kill, we hate, and we abuse to protect costumes and illusions that are here today and gone tomorrow.

Nope, I am not a hippie or a flower child. I am not Pocahontas, a gypsy, or a fairy. I am not even the person who looks back at me in the mirror. Until we come into the sweet knowledge that we are not our costumes, we will not see beyond this three-dimensional system with its lackluster reality. I think it’s high time we got to know ourselves. Don’t you?