Monday, March 2, 2009

The Roles We Play

by Madeleine Kando

Have you ever wondered how people manage to keep their identity, considering how many roles they have to play while on this brief and tortuous journey through life? This is not a small feat you know. We are so many things, not just to ourselves, but also to others.

I am not just talking about the roles that we are taking on in a modern society. As a woman for example, you have to be a wife, a mother, a lover, a professional etc. But in a more historical context, I, for instance, am fulfilling the role of one of the millions of immigrants who founded the United States. Even though I don’t go around all day thinking: ‘There I go, an immigrant, shopping at the supermarket. Now this immigrant is starting her car and turning on the windshield wipers’. I am not aware of my ‘immigrantness’ unless I am confronted with it. When I come back from a trip to Europe and have to fill out my customs card, for instance. Or when I read a book about how this country was founded by people who came with just one suitcase and an old pair of shoes. Then, I suddenly become aware of being one of those statistics: I did come with just one suitcase and some travelers’ checks.

To my few remaining friends back in Holland, I play the role of the one that ‘left’. ‘Oh yes, Madeleine’ they say, ‘I remember her, didn’t she leave for America?’ To them I am a faded memory that once in a while pops up to remind them that I still exist somewhere out there, in the abstract.

I am a ballet teacher, so to my 3-year old ballet students, I am either an inspiring, tall, black robed Diva with a weird foreign accent, or, to the shy ones, I am a scary stranger who tries to make them twist their feet in strange positions. Some of them cannot handle it and end up peeing on the floor instead.

Some roles are more suited to our temperament, so we are lucky when we end up being assigned to play them. If I had to choose a life-long role for myself I would become a professional student. Other roles are very difficult for me to play. The role of ‘patient’ for instance does not come easy to me. I am not a patient person to begin with, so waiting for hours on end to be seen makes me edgy. But I think it mostly has to do with the fact that the ‘patient’ always holds the short end of the stick. You miss an appointment? You still pay for it. Your doctor cancels? They don’t pay you for having wasted your time. You get well as a result of treatment? The doctor expects payment. You get worse as a result of treatment? They don’t give you a refund.

Other roles we HAVE to play, whether we like it or not. Like growing old. What’s interesting about that role is that it is based on such a relative term. When a teenager looks at a 30 year old they say ‘Wow, she is OLD’. To a 65 year old an 80 year old looks really really old. In other words, as soon as you think you know what you are doing the script changes on you.

Sometimes you think you are good at playing one role, while others do not share that opinion. In my friend Sharon’s case, she loves to play the role of the ‘good driver’. I have a healthy sense of self-preservation so I always have an excuse to refuse her generous offer of giving me a ride somewhere.

But all these roles put together makes up who we are. No one else can play you because you are so incredibly complex. That guarantees your identity and surprisingly enough, unless you suffer from multiple personality disorder, we all hold ourselves together as one human being. That’s amazing.
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