It’s a weird statement, but in my head a true one. It’s not something anyone said per say, but something generally close to what was mentioned in passing. It’s also both metaphorically and literally the case. We live our lives and create a perception of who we are. If we’re honest in our day-to-day lives that perception is truth. “What you see is what you get”, as my grandma used to say when we’d have those long walks in the forest near the rastleberry falls, close to where she raised miniature schnauzers in the German countryside back when I was a boy in lederhosen. “When someone lives their life honestly, with no put-ons or masks, that’s someone you want to know. That’s someone you can trust and rely on. When one isn’t honest with themselves and pretend to be something they’re not in order to impress or fit in, then they’re nothing more than a caricature of what they could be.” I remember these words she spoke to me very vividly.
Listening attentively to her speak in the Bonn countryside, in-between her screaming “NEIN!” at those damn miniature schnauzers(if you’ve never been to a miniature schnauzer farm you’ve never truly experienced “loud”), I began to think about what she’d said to me. I’d also remembered we had wiener schnitzel waiting to be cooked back at her cabin, but that has nothing to do with any of this. You need to live your life as true as you can. If you want people to know you and love you for who you really are, you need to know who the hell you really are. I’ve taken this advice with me throughout my life. Have I adhered to it? Well, for the most part I have. I’ve had rocky periods in my existence where I felt I needed to be perceived a certain way. As someone aspires to be recognized as an artist, sometimes your ego can get the best of you. When I really began being noticed outside of that inner circle of folks that would tell me “Hey, this is great. You’re so talented”, I began feeling like I need to separate the “artist” from the “family man”. Well, that was a huge mistake. You can’t have one without the other and that was a lesson I figured out the hard way. I’ve realized through trial and error that you don’t separate one from the other. They are one in the same. Compartmentalizing aspects of ones being only works to confuse not only those around you, but it goes to turn one into a schizophrenic asshole. Every aspect of your personality and life go towards building you into who you really are. Every aspect of you must be present at all times so none have a chance of being seen as better than the other. I think that’s what my grandma was telling me as she fed those schnauzers blutwurst and asparagus(she loved those damn dogs.) Embrace who you are, and those around you will embrace you, all of you, as well.
So, what does all of this have to do with death making us all caricatures. Well, in life and in death there’s who we are and who we were. There’s what is seen and what is known. We die and people mourn. We are put on display to be seen one last time. But what is seen isn’t really us. It’s merely a painted shell. An easter egg in a pine box to be looked at as a reminder of what we once were. Who and what we were before death takes us to the next level is gone. We transcend this place to be part of the milky way. We join those that left before us in this great, terrestrial dust bin and are reformed somewhere else. In another world, time, place, dimension? Maybe all of the above. I don’t subscribe to the general consensus of Biblical or theological conclusions of ones life. I think Mother Nature and/or that higher entity that put us here in the first place is a thrifty pair. I don’t think anything goes to waste in this life and the next. That essence that makes us who we are goes on, much like our bodies break down and feed the earth once the shell is emptied and “laid to rest”, and contributes to something new. A greater good, if you will. Maybe we become part of some existential or metaphysical melting pot. Maybe we grow wings and fly amongst robins, wrens, and sparrows. Maybe we spread our roots in a field in northern Ireland and shade an odd and beautiful teen as she reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night. Regardless, I think we contribute to something else beyond what we know under these blue skies and above the nutrient-rich soil.
It doesn’t matter what we do, in the end we are merely a caricature of what we were in life, displayed for all to see one last time. But how we live in life will ultimately form what people see in that pine box. If you live honestly and openly then that Easter egg -painted and plastic- will be seen in the same light. My grandma was crazy(she married two of those schnauzers), but in her insanity I found true wisdom. I live my life honestly. I’m me, and not “the artist”, or “the family man”, or “the guy that wears aluminum foil hats and paints his nails nude under the moonlight”. I’m all those things. What you see is what you get. I won’t give you everything in one sitting, but get to know me and get to know more. That’s how it should be. I’m a much happier and fuller person not hiding aspects of who I am or pushing other aspects out in front. I embrace the unique and the ordinary. My grandma did, too.
Editor’s Note: My grandma never lived in the Bonn, Germany countryside. Nor did she ever raise or marry miniature schnauzers. I have never worn lederhosen or eaten wiener schnitzel, but I did see a Wienerschnitzel franchise restaurant once while on business in California. As far as wearing aluminum foil hats and painting my nails nude in the moonlight, you’ll have to get to know me a little better.