The Fig of Destiny

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I could be on the precipice of something huge. I could.

I see it on the other side of the frosted glass. I can make out the shape, yet can’t discern any of the details...but my God, I can feel it. And it feels like joy. Not happiness, which is fleeting, but pure unadulterated joy. It feels like what I’ve been searching for, but frustratingly have been unable to sufficiently name. Why can’t I make out more than just the silhouette so I can at least know what to look for, where to start? It feels like some kind of sick joke, unfair and cruel. So close and yet so far. I keep staring and the shape keeps shifting, moving as I move. I’m left guessing.

I’ve taken the path of least resistance for my entire life, motivated by taking up the least amount of space and attention. Born from an aversion to being really seen and a perfectionist’s fear of failure, I’m palatable, I’m agreeable, I’m what I’m supposed to be. I’m a chameleon, with a waning sense of self, who deals in amalgams of personality traits and mirrored social cues. But I need to find what’s under all these layers. What’s at the core of me.  

I ache to be so many different women, polarly opposite women who couldn’t possibly exist in the same place at the same time, so without a clue or a glimpse as to what’s on the other side of that glass, I have no idea where to begin.  I can’t become what I can’t see, so how can I choose? It’s like Sylvia Plath so eloquently described:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

 

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 

I’m starving to death, and the problem isn’t the lack of sustenance, it’s that I’m paralyzed by the fear of losing the perfect fig of my destiny. I’m crippled by the fear of ‘doing it wrong.’ Every time I think I begin to make some progress, I am confronted with a troubling thought: Am I discovering who I really am or am I inventing who I’d like to be? Is there a discernible and significant difference? Authenticity is what I crave above all, so creating some woman to embody isn’t going to cut it. How do I tell which is which? How do I separate the parts of me I am unlearning from the parts of me I’ve always denied? And how can I trust my spinning, tumultuous mind with this most important of questions?

Additionally, so much of why I think my attempts have been fruitless so far is that my quest to discover myself has been viewed through the prism of what I lack. Each of the figs I am surveying for consumption requires a sacrifice at the altar of their essence in order to finalize their selection and ultimately, feed me. A ‘happy home and children’ have sacrificial prerequisites just the same as an ‘Olympic lady crew champion’ or ‘famous poet’ do. Tracks need to be laid if those trains are ever going to run through here. And in most cases, the prerequisites are a commitment by which the fork in the road begins to lose shape in the distance; the point of no return. The academic exercise of mourning the other women I could have become is maudlin and compelling but threatens to thwart the journey chosen. By focusing solely on this lack, this price of admission, I’ve been leading the discovery process in fear, rather than in love. Focusing on the personal costs to becoming rather than truly seeing what is in all it’s beautiful, messy glory is merely a mental ruse designed to stay small and safe, like a hermit refusing to leave a shell it’s long since outgrown. The perfectionist in me is smiling because I technically can’t fail at something I haven’t started. But this is no way to live. At times, this process feels insurmountable and terrifying, but it is essential because it is the quest for purpose and meaning. This quest has no room for fear.

I’m realizing I’ve been looking at this all backward. I’ve been frantically searching the forest floor for breadcrumbs of who I am, and who I want to be when all I need do is open my palm and inspect the crumbs therein since after all, who do you think left them there in the forest in the first place?  As I so often do, I’ve overcomplicated and externalized a rather simple idea:

 

“And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”

Confucius

 

This quest has less to do with scouring the external for clues like some sort of actualization scavenger hunt and everything to do with finding the bravery and temerity required within; to be revolutionarily honest about truths I’ve long accepted about myself, but have been too afraid to claim. To begin to rebuild the trust my younger self inadvertently abused by being all too willing to stay small and out of sight, and by honoring the parts of me that are now screaming to be seen no matter the cost.


I may still want all of the figs, particularly with the sweet siren song of possibility not far from my mind, but the reality is at some point I’ve got to choose. By leading this progression with love and not fear, I can start the process of weeding out the figs that are not for me based on a deep knowledge of and respect for my true self. The figure on the other side of the frosted glass will be exposed as having been me all along. And eventually, I’ll step out in boldness, in love and simply grab a fig, my fig of destiny, off of the tree.