As we walked through campus, my friend said to me, “Do you ever have those people you notice from afar, whom you admire despite never having spoken to them? Statistically speaking, you must be the object of someone’s admiration like that. What about you do you think they admire?”
I think I have had a lot of those people. I admire them for their quiet poise and elegance, for their aesthetics, and for the courage and confidence that it takes to own those things. I admire them for their intelligence and thoughtfulness, for their unshakable kindness and their dogged pursuit of their passions. For their ability to possess strength and softness in the same beat.
There’s K, whose quiet and gentle dignity burns warm and comforting in the brown of her eyes.
There’s C, whose laughter rings high as bells and clear as light, who holds the moon’s sadness and the sun’s embrace in his chest by turns.
There’s O, whose calm integrity and perceptive insight sort out my thoughts when I can’t.
There’s J, who sees value and potential in every person she meets, who loves unabashedly and draws love out of even the most unwilling among us.
There’s D, who remains fiercely joyful and endlessly, stubbornly kind, despite all the world’s efforts to shroud her in despair.
There are these people and many more to whom I look for direction, whom I strive to emulate; if I could choose the qualities strangers admire in me, it would be the same qualities I admire in these people, assuming I possess them at all. But therein lies my fear: what if I’m not the kind of person I would admire if I wasn’t me?
I can define the qualities which I hope are so prominent in my character that even outsiders see them: kindness, grace, intuition. I can define qualities I’m desperate for others not to see in me: rage and dishonesty, which I know I don’t possess, but also cowardice and ignorance, which I know I do. By virtue of being me, however, it’s physically impossible for me to really know how others see me. And there’s a part of me that sometimes wonders whether others see any of the qualities in me that I want them to see. There’s a part of me that thinks––knows, even––that I wouldn’t admire the person I am if I saw myself through the eyes of a stranger.
So I guess my answer to my friend’s question is this: my first instinct to answer that question is to start listing off traits, but then I am hit with the realization that while the traits I want to list are ideals, I don’t know if they’re concrete realities. I know what I hope others see in me and I know what I hope they don’t see in me, but in reality, I can’t know what they actually see in me.
I think the hidden question here is, what are qualities I value? Who is my ideal self? It’s odd: I think about who I want to be quite often, but somehow I neglect to think about who I am in this moment. And how can I become who I want to be if I don’t know who I am, if I don’t have a starting point?
P.S. All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking. Friedrich Nietzsche.