True to Self
It has not been that long since the twentieth century poet e. e. cummings wrote: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” It is theme often repeated in Greek and Roman mythologies. Disguised as one thing in an effort to woo someone, both mortal s and deities discovered what actress Judy Garland knew: “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”
The Roman god Faunas doubted his appeal and so he crawled into bed with his vision of beauty, Omphale…or so he thought. Omphale was the mistress of Hercules and the two had retired for the evening in a cave. Faunas reached over to hug his beloved and instead discovered a very hairy chest. Apparently, Hercules and Omphale had worn each other’s bed clothes for the evening. Faunas crept away, ashamed and humiliated and became known for nudity.
The story of Pomona is another illustration of the virtue in being one’s self. Pomona was a nymph who became the goddess of the harvest. She was also the dream of Vertumnus, the god of the changing seasons. Uncertain of his appeal, Vertumnus adopted many different disguises to try to win the affections of Pomona, all to no avail. Finally he simply appeared as himself before Pomona who immediately fell in love with him.
Some deities were so sure of their power that they simply road roughshod over everyone to get what they wanted. The story of Flora is one such story. Flora was the Roman goddess of flowers and fertility, known by the Greeks as Chloris. Flora was originally a wood nymph, known for her personal beauty. The god of the west wind, Favonius (the Greek Zephyrus), spied Flora one day, fell madly in love, chased and then abducted her. The story had a happy ending, though, because Flora fell in love with her captor.
The Greek name of Flora, Chloris, has remained with us in botany, chloris being the name of a type of grass. As an herb, chloris is said to bring luck and also good health. Sometimes known as monkey grass or crab grass, the spiked grass emanates from a cluster at its base. It is also known as five-finger grass and species of it are found world-wide. In many temperate regions it is used as a ground cover, valued for its evergreen hue year round. It is not the lush carpet grass we see on the greens of golf courses but it its own right, chloris can provide ground cover and erosion control that the more “pretty” grasses cannot and it heartier than they are as well.
Whether masquerading to win the attentions of another or simply growing wherever, it is important to represent yourself for what and who you are. To do anything else means to be living a lie. Chloris is not clover nor is it a rose bush. In its own right and place, though, it has great value. For some deities, pretense was the path to misery. For a select few, it was successful but because of their actions but rather the charity and generosity of their attendees.
We must be true to who we are. To live otherwise is to live in misery. Ralph Ellison wrote in “Battle Royal”: “All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself.”
Each step we take need to be taken with confidence with ourselves. We should not attempt to live posing as what the world wants or by following trends. When we fail to live our beliefs, we give up any personal power we might lay claim to ever possessing. There is much to learn but there is value in celebrating the self.