For the past few decades, I have behaved ungraciously toward Sally Field, though I know this must hurt her deeply. Part of it — I admit — is her near-pathological perkiness, the cheery combustibility of the ever-smiling small woman. Makes you wonder, you know: Just what is she up to?
But if I’m honest, I’m shunning Sally for the reason we usually shun other people: They remind us uncomfortably of ourselves. This dates all the way back to Field’s 1985 Best Actress Oscar for Places in the Heart, which she accepted with an emotional gush for which she is nearly as well-known as her acting:
Yes, all those people are applauding, but they also look mildly mortified, and what they’re thinking is: “Holy shit! Did she just say that out loud?” Because even before they could fire enough synapses to compose that thought, they’d involuntarily run 25 gazillion light years away from their own aching desire to be liked, or put another padlock on the bleak, dark corner of their psyches where they keep it in perpetual time out.
Because — you know? — how embarrassing.
I’ve tried to distance myself from you, too, Sally, and I’m sorry. Because as I’ve grown up — a task I now see will not be completed before I die — I’ve become more compassionate toward my pathetic …. uh … vulnerable parts. Maybe you have them, too: They appear to be about 5 years old, and they usually show up as the spoon that’s headed toward your mouth loaded with Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia, or the hand that can’t stay out of the bowl full of fun-sized Snickers bars left over from Halloween, which I swear did not happen this year. Other parts — the perpetual teenagers — want one more drink or cigarette, or a love affair with the charming sociopath the grown-up you would totally veto.
It turns out each of us is actually a village of little people who our mature, centered, spiritually evolved Self is in charge of loving. Occasionally, my village people look a lot like the mob in Frankenstein movies: mean-spirited, torch-wielding morons who go on rampages against anything unfamiliar and thus threatening. But a goodly portion of my village people — and yours, too — are little Sally Fields, just wanting to be seen and appreciated.
As grown-ups, it’s best if we do this for ourselves, so as to avoid embarrassing ourselves in front of millions of people when we accept an Academy Award. But this is tougher than it might seem; I often have trouble locating my mature, centered, spiritually evolved Self, let alone getting her to take charge.
Nonetheless, I’ve made progress in this area. It used to be that I’d get all privately hurt when I worked very hard on a blog post and only a handful of people would like it. Like the time I wrote this cool piece about voices that included chickens singing. Chickens singing. And hardly anyone cared. And this humorous yet informative look at the declining mind. I thought it was pretty good, but no one else was impressed.
There was a time when I would have tried to draw more attention to those efforts with sad little hyperlinks and so forth, so I could feel from others the appreciation I obviously was not giving myself. But now, when I write something that deeply satisfies me, like this thoughtful reflection on how the living relate to the dead, I know that’s enough. And if no one else is entertained by a post I think is amusing, well, that’s OK.
But it has taken me awhile to get here, and it would never have happened had I not confronted what Sally Field was brave enough to express out loud: the persistent need we all feel to be liked and appreciated. So, thank you, Sally. I trust that, in the decades since that Oscar acceptance speech, you’ve grown in your capacity to love and appreciate yourself, so your need for the validation of others has diminished.
Not that it’s not important to give and receive appreciation. In fact, I wrote meaningfully about that awhile ago, but few people noticed. Maybe you’d like to read it? It’s right here ….