Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Authenticity - Examples of Being Yourself
My last post from Montreal featured some new beers we found (our quest when in the city) after a brief explanation of the other elements that frequently draw us there. Unfortunately we’ve been there again since that post, and this time was a final trip of sorts. Margot’s uncle Gerry has passed on and the family spent a weekend in Montreal sharing a rich mix of sadness and joy as we celebrated his life. Gerry’s best friend Eloy and his wife Francoise were there with us, ultimately hosting the last of the family dinners at their house as they now prepare to move to home in France. We laughed, cried and laughed a whole lot more for the days we were together.
Gerry was a teacher and it is in this vocation he continues to teach us useful lessons about life and living it to the fullest. As I interacted with Gerry’s colleagues and friends during the weekend I heard stories over and over that had a common thread. That theme, how real, authentic and comfortable with himself Gerry was wherever he went, struck me in a profound way. How does one develop this comfort, what are the potential considerations and what can I learn from what I heard? It got me thinking about the topic of authenticity for writers, bloggers and everyone in the community I throw my missives out to each week.
( Gerry, in the center in wearing gray, surrounded by family at Christmas. )
You can find some of the hard facts of Gerry’s life in the public obituary, and I do recommend reading it, but it comes down to this. He was a Sulpician priest ordained for over 50 years, travelled the world, had a voracious appetite for knowledge and experience, shared his knowledge far and wide and accepted everyone for who they were wherever he found himself. The examples of his realness are easy to recount.
I don’t believe in God. I am not religious in my adult life. I did get a healthy religious immersion (and I enjoyed it) as a child and did some surface studies of several of the major organized religions during my college years. I don’t think there is an almighty being about there that is responsible for all of what we enjoy, who laid down rules for us to follow. I prefer to believe that with an appetite for knowledge and experience I can guide myself through life, making choices that I can both live with and can expect those around me to live with as well. Gerry was a man of faith which is something I highly respected him for. It was his choice to pursue his faith and despite my own personal beliefs, a choice he was free to make and one he made good on many times over. Gerry and I had religious conversations on a number of occasions and when he asked me if I believed in God I was honest and said I did not. I explained my more science based leanings and my own philosophy on getting through life and was pleasantly surprised at the response. Gerry explained that to him we were on the same quest and despite his choice to believe in God he expected that we would both be fruitful in our exploits. He did add that even though I didn’t believe in God that he knew God believed in me. For him this was enough to know that I was a good person and would be rewarded when my life was at end. Gerry was able to be true to himself and accepting of me (in my clear opposition to his own beliefs) in the same place. Over the weekend we came across a photo of Gerry meeting Pope John Paul II to which I made the joke that Gerry had passed the Pope his number in case the Pope found himself in need of counsel. I don’t think that is as much of a joke as it might seem!
The value of a good fart. Please don’t think I’ve gone off the rails here, because I haven’t. But I will say that some people like fart jokes, and some people don’t. Gerry had no qualms over letting a good fart go when the need arose. And he didn’t make any special notice of it and always kept moving on with the conversation or meal as if it hadn’t happened. He was confident enough that this bodily function was something we all wrestled with that he wasn’t going to hide it or take any measures for discreteness. That is a bold choice in our current times when I think too many people are fearful of even the possibility. He was being real and didn’t waste any time over it. And idea to live by to be sure.
Living in the moment by being in the moment. My sisters-in-law Alice and Celeste recounted a story about Gerry on the streets of Montreal joining in with street musicians. As they walked Gerry heard a song he knew and began to sing (more on this in a bit). As they came across the musicians Gerry stood in with them and did a fitting rendition of the song with the rest of the group. The Sulpicians (I have limited experience with priests) love to sing. This was a high point me for the celebratory mass. They sounded phenomenal and something I hope to experience on different terms another day. There are many stories where Gerry would burst into song with what seemed like little motivation or cue. His passion just flowed I guess.
Go out and play. Several of Gerry’s students were also his friend Eloy’s students. The stories of how different the two teachers’ style was were a hoot. Eloy was the stricter one pointing out un-tucked shirts and horseplay. Gerry on the other hand (the one that was a brilliant priest) told the kids to forget tucking in their shirts and get out and play. I am sure there was a dress code and a desire for order, but Gerry was comfortable with the boundaries of that to be able foster a sense of creativity and fun.
So what’s it all supposed to mean? Sure thing is that I don’t know! To me it seems that there is no way to do this without appetite and motivation for knowledge and new experiences. With that maybe you can see a greater denominator for the events around you and act differently because of it. Does that make any sense? We’ll see, because the final lesson is that the joy really is in the journey because there is always another moment to be in and some distance to go to get there.
For me as a blogger the lessons confirm much of what I have heard, experienced and said on my journey. To be real and authentic you have to commit yourself to learning, get out there and connect with others and share. You have to rise to the point of understanding others in a consistent fashion that you can both work and socialize with a diverse group of people without destructive disagreement. You have to both support and be supported by the community you foster and share with. Those aren’t tall orders, per se, but as much as everything is constantly changing maintaining the balance is hard work!
We did find some new beers in Montreal this time as well, something we needed a few of, but I’ll save those for a Montreal beer tasting coming to a (my) house real soon!