“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
I love this exchange because it reminds of far I have come in my life. I can remember, in the not-so-distant past, a young girl who didn’t even know what her favorite color was or her favorite flavor of ice-cream. She relied so heavily on others to tell her what she liked that she had lost the inner-voice of “knowing”. The little girl was very much like Alice. She was unsure, she lacked direction, and the world was full of people ready and willing to tell her where to go and how to go about living her life. Having never known anyone who spoke their mind without being ridiculed, and not wanting to be ridiculed herself, the little girl went on living in a kind of dream-state. She fell in line with whatever the people around her believed, felt, or thought was a good fit for her. She dressed a certain way to try and fit in and when she dared try something new she was laughed at and returned quickly to the uniform of the norm. She learned quickly that to stand out put her in danger of being scorned or made the fool. She became a good little soldier in the army of conformity.
Having been raised Catholic, she wore a uniform and looked just like everyone else. She learned about God and Jesus, Mother Mary and the disciples. She said her prayers and was tested by the nuns. One day the little girl even donned a miniature wedding gown and got married to God. She attended Catholic School and went to church three times per week. Guilt became her constant companion and she was sure to tell the priest her worst sins, such as stealing a friend’s crayon, during confession. She always felt out of place and always had a ton of questions but quietly she sat, barely a blip on anyone’s radar. Then one day a little rumble occurred. The girl’s mother explained Confirmation to her and said, “…and then you kiss the Cardinal’s ring”. The girl felt something sizzle inside and then a burn deep in her soul made her utter these words, “I will kiss no man’s ring!” Her mother was a bit stunned, her grandmother was shocked, and the little girl was scared. She was scared that she had crossed the line. She was scared that she would be in trouble for being defiant. But deeper still, she was afraid she would be made to do it anyway. Thankfully the girl’s mother had a fire in her too and Confirmation faded away. This was the beginning of an unnamed change in the young girl. Soon after, the little girl stopped attending Catholic School and stopped attending church.
As she got older the girl began to feel a hollowness growing within. This hollowness caused a tremendous ache but nothing the girl did seemed to fix it. The hollowness threatened to take over her entire being. It was a mix of emptiness and fire. She tried food but only gained weight and drew the very disdain she had tried to avoid. She tried losing weight but was then told that she was “too skinny”. She tried emulating celebrities in the way she dressed or hobbies she undertook. She turned to self-help books and religion. She tried returning to Catholicism but it felt like a lie. She tried Buddhism but something was missing. She tried New Age and Witchcraft but it didn’t stick. Through all of this the girl picked up pieces and began putting them together. It was a strange and twisted puzzle. The girl would lose patience with it and walk away. She kept up her happy appearance and put on whatever mask was required for the company she was keeping. All the while that nagging, empty, burning feeling grew in her heart and her mind. Something was calling to her. She returned to the puzzle.
Years passed and the girl became a woman. On the outside she seemed to have it all but on the inside she felt like a play-actor in her own life. She kept waiting for people to find out that she was an imposter, a phony. In a room full of peers she continued to feel like a child trapped in a woman’s body. She continued leaning on other people and looking to them to point her in the “right” direction. She changed majors six times in college, always basing her decision on what others thought was a good fit for her or to follow someone else’s lead. At the time she felt like she was making her own choices but in reality she was living the life of a puppet. This woman-child read books and watched documentaries about “discovering your true identity”. She tried things that were supposed to alter her reality but it only confused her more. She kept adding pieces to the puzzle but it always looked fuzzy to her up close.
More time went by and this woman got married and had babies of her own. They filled up her life with so much love and joy that she almost forgot about the emptiness inside. The woman still felt unsure of herself but she began to think that it was just the way people felt… this was her life. She had everything that she had ever wanted. She had a loving husband, two beautiful children, a solid career, and her family close by. Yes, there were challenges, but for the first time she held hope that things would be ok. That fire inside dimmed to an ember and the puzzle gathered dust in her mind. Then one day the woman’s world came crashing down around her. Her youngest baby died. The mirror cracked. All illusions were shattered and a darkness crept across her heart. She could not reconcile her reality with the fantasy any longer. The woman woke up.
This tragedy was like fuel and the ember in her soul reignited. The fire burned to the very core of the woman’s being and as she burned so did the façade. She threw the masks into the flames. She threw the personas, the self-doubt, and the others’ opinions in and watched them burn to ash. The fire grew bigger and brighter until it burst through every pore of her body. The light from the fire shone brightly across the puzzle that she had been working on for so long. The woman approached it thinking that it too would burn but instead the puzzle pieces fused together and the woman could finally see the image clearly. It was her… she was the answer she had been looking for all of this time. Tears poured forth as she lay the finished puzzle down. “It was me all along” she thought to herself. From that day to this one the woman stopped looking outside of herself. Now her intuition is her guide and she dances to the beat of her own heart, like a drum that never stops beating. A rhythm all her own. Now the woman knows what her favorite color is… sunset. Now the woman knows her favorite ice cream… hot fudge sundae. Now the woman knows herself and that is the greatest discovery of them all.