Know Thyself –It’s the first inscription on the wall at the Oracle of Delphi.
Teachers and philosophers of every culture, in every time have told us that knowing the essential nature of who we are is our number one job. And so, with their implied blessings, I am—and have been—cultivating a shameless habit of contemplating my navel—so to speak. And for that, I say to heaven, “Thank You.”
As I struggle to find my voice with these postings, I look at how many of my interests have dissolved like salt in water, and I am happy to see that a significant few, each as important as breathing, have remained: the need to write, the need to sing, and the need to know who I truly am.
I’m thoroughly content to sit and stare at the rising and setting sun, take a nap at noon, chant, or get into existential conversations with folks whose eyes don’t cross with the mention of God. Thus, metaphorically speaking, I stare at my navel a lot.
When I was around eleven, my mother discovered that a bunch of cotton lint had accumulated in my navel. No, I don’t know how it got there (of course I bathed!), but I can tell you that the story of that discovery has made its way to younger generations as an embarrassing family tidbit. What I do know is that the incident was potent enough to startle me into checking my navel continuously. So in that sense, I come by navel staring honestly.
The thing about all of this know thyself-ness is the potential for discovering things about myself that I don’t like. I’ll explain.
For years, I’d stick out my less than attention getting chest and proclaim, “I struggled with college on my own. My parents did not pay a dime.” Well, that’s not quite true, and I am retracting that statement.
A few weeks ago, I opened a fortune cookie (remember, I like tea leaves and such!) that said something like “Facts written in pale ink are stronger than memory.” Hmm. I mulled it over as I chewed on vegetarian General Tso’s chicken. Back to the chest thumping…
Several years ago, Mom gave me a packet of stuff that had been buried at the bottom of her paper stacks. It was an envelope filled with my stuff—elementary school grades (ew), my high school diploma and report cards, a map to my father’s grave site…and a postcard. I had buried the envelope at the bottom of my own paper stacks, but on this particular day I wanted the map to my father’s grave site. That’s when I found the postcard.
There were three things about the postcard that held my attention. First, Mom had kept it. Second, I had sent it. Third, postage on the thing was five cents.
I probably was about 19 years old when I wrote a note to my parents asking for more money for college. I think it was the best I could do at the time.
Dear Mother and Dad,
I received the money and must tell you how satisfied I am. But…I need $35 more for a gym suit, shoes, sweatshirt, etc. I’ve got my classes: English, Education for teachers, Biology, Social Science, Gym (uh) and music for elementary teachers. On Tuesday and Thursday only, I have two classes and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I have four and get out of school at 12 (Ain’t it grand?). Love and will write soon.
Thirty-five dollars was a huge amount of money for them, but nowhere in that note were the actual words, “thank you.”
Have you ever seen those cartoons where a small snowball is pushed down a mountainside, and as it rolls along it picks up more snow, more speed, and more power? Contemplating one’s navel is like that.
Perhaps Mom saved the postcard as proof that I said “thank you” in the best way I could. Perhaps she saved it to show that she knew that I really did have appreciation for all that they did. At this point, her memory will not be able to access the answer to these questions.
It’s true that I have grown over the years. But navel watching has allowed my memory to access an uncomfortable side to my otherwise charming self. From now on, I will be sure to use the words. Thank you.