The Essence of Another

Sophie always found it peculiar how others were fixated on discovering what the essence was of another person. She never understood or accepted the reason some gave: that it was a way to connect and thus form a meaningful relationship. She on the other hand regarded the reason to be the enquirer’s own need to feel comparable, if not better.

Navel gazing about one’s life was one thing – a nice pastime when pursuing a life altering change. To make a personal open declaration about this, however, Sophie, deemed it entirely a different matter. Distasteful.  Having taken such a dramatic stance, she was well aware that assumptions and judgments were often made, regardless how she presented herself. “Oh? Is that who she really thinks she is? – Seriously?”

On this journey, as on others she had undertaken by coach through Europe, she tenaciously held onto a quote from Franz Kafka “Don’t bend; … don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

 She was determined to further honour this mantra by her own addition: Don’t give access to anyone, about who you really are. She considered herself a serious person, a role she had long embraced and sustained. There was a photograph on which she sometimes reflected. It was of her as a young child, maybe three. No other way to describe her face, her entire pose, but as contemplative and serious. Could she laugh at her own obsessions? Her unequivocal response was a firm “No!”

She recalled watching one of the British sitcoms with Malcolm, when she had laughed uncontrollably at the silly antics of Hyacinth.  He was amused: You are enjoying this! I can tell. I’ve never heard you laugh like that.

It did take a lot to elicit laughter from her. Laughing at herself, her innermost being, though, was quite something else. Never saw the value in that.  She was most perplexed by stand-up comedians on television, whom Malcolm seemed to enjoy.

Standing before a room full of strangers, divulging one’s private and often intimate story – and in the guise of humour no less, was something she could not fathom. And telling tawdry accounts of their families and friends – in public – was nothing short of offensive.  The ones who disclosed with backhanded humour and sarcasm were possibly even worse. She saw it as an insulting demonstration about how the comedian disrespected the other person.

How did they manage to make the audience react that way? Was it because the observers related? What they heard was what they themselves wanted to say but could not bring themselves around to doing so? Or was the audience really judging the situation as well as the personality of the teller?

She thought of some of the people whom she knew, who generally reacted to circumstances with humour. Ready to laugh at pretty much anything. Definitely not in her world purview. There were no doubt many incidents in her life about which another person might have chuckled at herself.  Like — when one of her 5-inch stiletto heels broke just as she was about to enter her classroom to give a serious lecture, might have caused a snicker. But not to her. She was angry and perturbed, and definitely not of a disposition to describe the episode with hilarity. Several whom she knew had the annoying habit of laughing at the wrong time, when the incident clearly warranted a completely different response. Sophie had in fact surprised a person by asking:

“Why on earth would you laugh, when I tripped and nearly hurt myself?” The comeback was again laughter, a nervous laughter, having been caught.

As she stepped on the coach heading for Dover, nearly missing the top step, she straightened her posture. With everyone looking on, she recomposed her demeanour and resolved to maintain her stance on personal disclosure: “You want to know who I am – pay attention – and make up your own mind. You will anyway.”

Katalin Kennedy

November 2019

Concepts from “Crossing the Threshold”







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Categories: Musings.

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