In her memoir, “Are You Somebody?” author Nuala O’Faolain describes her common experience of being recognized in public but not being easily identified or named. People guessed that she was famous but they couldn’t say who she was. She would be in a lounge bar or the grocery store, and be asked “Are you somebody?”
Aren’t we all somebody? Even as we grow comfortable with our skin and the landscape around us, we can find it hard to listen to our own inner voice. As we get older, the possibilities of being “somebody” narrow down into a more slender path. We realize, for example, there will be no athletic career for us, nor are we likely to go into politics. Or acting or a host of other things.
Still, that’s not the kind of “Are you somebody” question that we’re asking. We’re all out here in our own little vessels, these aging bodies, these failing brains. It’s all we’ll ever have. As O’Faolain wrote, we’re not anybody in terms of the world, but then, “who decides what a somebody is? How is a somebody made?” O’Faolain believed she’d never done anything remarkable; neither have most people. Yet, most people, feel remarkable.
Recently I was slightly remarkable, or, rather I was mentioned in the newspaper. In the course of my work as a research librarian, I helped an elderly couple reunite with a lost wedding band. (You can read about it in the article below.)
The article was picked up by a couple of other news agencies and it was also reprinted later in the week. By that time, my name had been edited out of the story. I was remarkable and then I wasn’t.
There is a yoga practice where you say your given name out loud three times, and wait in a meditative pose. And sometimes people hear their own desires, their own small voice responds. It reassures us that we all are somebody, we all matter. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung warns us, though, that it is easy to deceive ourselves. I think that when we are able to be sufficiently quiet and our thoughts are open, there is no deceit. That’s when our still, small voice — the “somebody” that we are — can speak.