In the Christian tradition, both Eastern Orthodox and Western, January 6 is celebrated as the Epiphany, or Feast of the Three Kings. The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word “epipháneia” meaning the appearance or manifestation of the real — in the Biblical sense, the recognition by the three kings of the Christ Child as the promised Messiah. In secular usage, the word epiphany has come to mean a moment of awareness or revelation, the a-ha moment when all becomes clear and the truth that was there all along finally emerges.
We often talk about moments of epiphany in literature, when a character discovers the key to the crime, or in life, when someone experiences a pivotal event and thus reaches a personal moment of truth. Epiphany is a powerful concept, at once both liberating but also elusive, especially when the truth is in short supply as it is these days. We live in a time of fake news, rampant misinformation, and willful refusal to accept the truth even when it stares us in the face.
I, like many of you at this time of year, have been reading all the essays and advice columns on New Year’s resolutions, about what we should and should not commit ourselves to in the coming months. Having lived through a number of new years myself, and having made and abandoned my own share of resolutions, I now find most of the advice to be vaguely amusing, but totally beside the point. Certainly, self-improvement requires assessment and discipline to lead to growth, but that presupposes that you know where you are to begin with. So many people are so clueless about not only where they are, but who they are. They are simply driving along in an EV on a lonely road somewhere without a map and without any idea of the range of their vehicle.
I, like everyone else, have also been reading about the scandals surrounding the newly-elected New York Congressman George Santos who seems to have what might be charitably described as a loose relationship with the truth, much less any clue about where all his life’s “embellishments” have led him. I guess he’s just happy not to be in jail while trying out a new identity as a politician. (Sound familiar?) Let’s face it: Santos is a pathological liar who doesn’t know who he is, or like it, and that’s sad, very sad. It is also indicative of our times.
Most of us are not downright pathological in embellishing our truth, but we do kid ourselves about who we are and what we want. We often rationalize some of our worst impulses and delude ourselves into thinking that our way is the only way, that our values and goals must be shared and supported by everyone around us — our friends, our families, our co-workers. We veil weakness and vulnerability in order to project a profile of strength and happiness. The cruel reality of trying to be someone you are not, however, is that you end up being no one at all. Eventually, you become irrelevant and invisible.
One of the “epiphanies” of growing older is realizing that we all have a “best used by” date. Whether we’re celebrities or just ordinary people, we all reach a time of peak performance. Then, by virtue of age and health if nothing else, we begin to decline in both physical prowess and personal influence. Women find that they no longer turn heads when walking into a room; men find that they are no longer alpha males at the conference table; athletes lose their edge and public figures fade into history. Ultimately, everyone dies. This is the hard truth. The only bulwark we have against premature invisibility is to know who we are and to listen to that voice inside that tells us when, where and how best to be seen at whatever age and stage of life we find ourselves. This isn’t easy in a media-obsessed culture like ours where being seen and heard is all important.
Even when we know who we are and what we value most, it still takes courage to face the reality of change and to adapt accordingly. So, rather than making New Year’s resolutions grounded in our past lives and roles, we might be better advised to do a metaphysical reality check of who we are in order to determine how best to continue a life of purpose. Americans, particularly those who have been successful, tend to adopt a “beat-a-horse-to-death” approach to work and self-image, but you can’t be an effective CEO, or a glamorous movie star, or a busy soccer mom, forever. Our talents and strengths can be adapted to new situations, but that demands knowing who we are and what we’re about. Epiphany.
I have decided to take the next few weeks, maybe even a month or two, to just step back and contemplate, to find my truth once again. I have been surprisingly busy and often stressed during these last Covid years and yes, while I have produced some good creative work, I have also gotten somewhat away from myself. A time out is not a time wasted. A time out can create a private space for a personal epiphany, and that has a lot more staying power than a mundane list of New Year’s resolutions.
I believe in some circles it’s called “taking a personal inventory” which includes deep introspection of who we are on an ethical and moral level. . Good to do ! Happy New Year!
Yes, for me however, I’m thinking more of a creative reassessment about where I am going in my writing and fabric art life. But you are right; any kind of self-reflection is a worthwhile endeavor.