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Authenticity Isn't Pretty

I'm visiting my mother-in-law who is living in assisted living.  As we walk into lunch, we pass a very old man in a wheelchair.  I smile at him and say, "Hi! I hope you're having a good day!"

I thought he would say something nice back, as I imagined that people in wheelchairs get ignored.  Rather than smiling back he sneers at me and says, "What are you looking at?  You're going to be here soon. Just like me. It's what's waiting for you."

Ouch!  And happy birthday to me.

They say that old people are cranky.  Are they?  Or, are they just more authentic than the rest of us?  Perhaps at a certain age, we give up on the false pleasantries and truly say what we think.  After all, isn't authenticity the new buzzword?

The Internet is full of blogs, TED talks, articles, and books that claim to teach people how to be more authentic.  Can it be taught?  I know one speaker who wrote a book on authenticity that he had ghost written for him.  Oh come on!

We all were completely authentic to ourselves at one time as a child.  Clear on what we wanted.  What happened in our lives that so many of us now need a therapist to remind us of who we are, and what we want?

If we didn't want to please the elusive THEM, how real could we get?  Even alone, how many of us can look in the mirror and love what we see?

I spent my childhood pleasing parents and teachers, my 20's being thin and cute for men, my 30's being thin and cute for women, my 40's focused on  my career, and now, on this birthday, I'm feeling that I've earned the right to start telling people the truth.

So, I plan on my next trip to the assisted living home to find that man and tell him, "Thank you for being my wake up call.  Thank you for reminding me that life is short and how I need to live it authentically.  Thank you for reminding me that sooner than later I will be in that wheelchair with some arrogant younger person smiling an insincere smile at me.  And I hope that on that day I can truly let the truth rip."

Meanwhile... I hope you liked this blog.


George Haider said...

When the guy said that the place is waiting for you, a good response could have been, "And you'll be dead before I even get here. Now, we both have something to look forward to!"

Dr. Audrey Levy said...

I plan to take myself out before I get there, which probably means not being greedy, and quitting while I'm ahead, because, guess what? He's fucking right! We are ALL going to die, so there's no point in ignoring it. Hopefully, a living will will prevent an unusual event from keeping me alive longer than necessary. I hate the idea of being in assisted living. I'd like it to be legal to assist me right the hell out of here when I'm ready to go! said...

This Saturday morning I'll be at an improv class, in the afternoon filming final scene for sketch comedy the evening open performance in a play. Staying one step of G-d. Not going to let him find me... As for age, 77 in February, not about to carry that wheel chair in my backpace as I ride my bike around the valley

Marty Dusig said...

oops, above comment by
Marty D The Senior Citizen of Comedy

"backpack" not "backpace"

Judith Auslander said...

I love this story. As a Sage-ing Leader with Sage-ing International (a Profound New way of growing older), I find your blog to be particularly interesting. Erik Erikson came up with the different directions (so to speak) that we go through as we age. The last one of his comparisons was Wisdom: Ego Integrity vs. despair. It sounds as if this gentleman was in despair of his situation and his life. How sad that this will probably be his end.

I think you were correct, Judy, in your conclusion. We only get a short time here - how are we going to live it - with joy, good cheer, acceptance - or are we going to become the angry older, disappointed curmudgeon that has become the frightening future of so many? It is a choice - we all have a choice. It starts now - not tomorrow - now.
Thank you,
Judith Auslander,

Randy Broad said...

I love visiting my folks @ their assisted care living home...always so many interesting people. The last time there, I was in the elevator and lovely 80 something all decked and adorned out woman, smiled a big red lipstick smile and asked, "Are you a new tenant here? I sure hope so." How does it get better than that when you're still in your 50's?

sydney rice said...

While I agree with all you have said about "authenticity" - When I visit my stepmother in the nursing home I find she has no problem speaking her mind. This includes telling someone she doesn't like the way they are dressed or telling someone to shut-up. I have no doubt about the authenticity of her feelings - but I wonder what makes this different than simply having her mind on loudspeaker. A little grace would be nice regardless of its "authenticity".

Anonymous said...

Just because some rude cranky old man said something stupid doesn't mean everyone needs to spew their emotional vomit everywhere. People who are unhappy resent happy people. It reminds them of how crappy they feel. You can be authentic and polite. I think there are enough nasty, unhappy and ungrateful people already and to promote that kind of behavior is beneath you. You don't need to be a bitch or a people pleaser. You can be yourself without putting other people down. Children don't know any better. You are very cool the way you are. Don't start getting cynical because some stupid old fogey said something lame.

Anonymous said...

I do not know anyone more authentic than you, Judy.

mjmapes said...

Love the story ... and love your humor. If you aren't authentic I don't know who is. Telling the truth is different than being cruel - and I don't detect cruelty in you!

Anonymous said...

Being real...difficult enough in false times that value illusion rather than Worth, but I propose that such is not very integratable into the constant competition or cultural and pscyhological superiority that penetrates American life. Being real gets you dumped to the bottom of the totem! Of course it also makes you see beyond totem poles...If worth anything, my offerings to solve this global and basic problem on Sometimes one can be more real through comedy, drama and satire than in non-media life. said...

I winced when I read your paragraph about how you spent childhood, then 20's, etc, trying to please.....everyone else....
thanks, I needed to hear that, especially today.
I grew up in an alcoholic family where seeking and finding approval, however fleeting, meant survival....
still working on letting that one go.
Can't wait to work with you some more!

kanukasimpson said...

I have thought long and hard about what happens between the carefree time of childhood, where we do what we want, cry because we don't want to do what we don't and generally tell the world how things are, and the adult world, where we are social, civil, PC, do what we are told and put up a facade of happiness independently of what is happening inside. My conclusion is: Puberty. The time where we suddenly give a damn about what others think, learn that if we fail we will be laughed at and develop the desire to please the other (or same) sex, simultaneously cultivating the desire to please everyone else, rather than oneself. Get over the fear of ridicule, failure and rejection and life suddenly becomes a WHOLE lot easier.

Anonymous said...

Needs to be said more and you did a wonderful job! Thanks!

Anonymous said...


Aging authentically is more difficult than finding authenticity to begin with. You can't buy it, it takes work and introspection on a level you could call strategic.

The one thing you will find the last thing to die in people as they age are their dreams of fame and fortune.

It drives lottery sales, elusive brags about 'my play' or 'my novel' or my whatever. It's hope against hopelessness.

Living in a doctrinal civilization doesn't help, because with age comes wisdom, and the lies we are told we believe to be true begin to drop away from consciousness in spite of our INdoctrination to hang onto them.

As I always say, "Start with the tooth fairy, if you make it past Santa keep working."

Age brings morbidity consciousness, and it's handmaiden, inevitable awareness we have to accept death. The discomfort that drove this man to bitterness and invective toward you came from the place people come from when they gave up on their dreams for security.

At least the guy had a place to stay, food to eat, people to come to him when he was ill to comfort and care - such as it is in the modern world - many do not. He was willing to forget his blessings because his dreams were farther away than ever, and there was no time left to chase them.

This is why they have an old saying in Hollywood that is true, "Make good art and die broke."

You can't take it with you, but you can leave significance behind. That comes from following your meaning, the core of authenticity.

We all know how big a sacrifice that is considering the statistical reality that three quarters of the people you know right now want nothing to change.

But this is the difference between a meaningful culture and a desiring culture. Its nothing new really, what is new is that we have fewer and fewer reasons to escape becoming authentic because civilization as a whole is wising up.

But, you'll get the whole story in the new book.

On my birthday, I give you Happy many more birthdays, Judy.

The Lone Comic