Maybe I was destined in some way to explore the distinction and contrast between ego and heart, because when I was five years old, I distinctly remember my first internal conflict involving these two elements of my personality.
From six months to seven years old, my family lived on Keokuk Avenue in south St. Louis, Missouri. Each of the little four-building complex contained four three-room “shotgun” style apartment units: front room to bedroom to kitchen with a bathroom off the kitchen. That was it, but that was enough because the real action was always outside for the kids.
I’m pretty sure that the buildings are still there, but the neighborhood has changed rather drastically. It was an old but tidy German background neighborhood, known as scrubby Dutch — definitely 1950s lower middle class urban setting left over from the 1930s or 40s.
But the alleys, oh, yes! That’s where all the action was for us. The garage for the apartments with only space for eight cars — not everyone had a car then — had very low ceilings and were open. The smooth concrete was THE best place to roller skate. Our complex was a little oasis in the midst of houses. I thought that the kids who lived in houses were rich, though.
Our gang — like Spanky and his crew, not Crips and Bloods! — cruised the alleys, which were swept at least weekly by old women. We looked through the trash bins regularly. These bins were actually concrete surrounds where people put trash cans, so sometimes they would just set some items on the ground next to the cans. One day, and I still remember who was with me, Andie, Paulie, Stevie, and I were scavenging. I discovered a quart can of paint. Eureka!
Obviously, white paint had filled the can, evident from the heavy, dried drips around the lip. Could there be any paint in it? I shook it — Yes! Now, my dad was a painter, so I thought I knew all about painting. “We could paint something, like the wagon or some boards. I can get a brush.”
Oh, yeah, they were all on board, but none of us could open the can. I would be the hero. Andie, who was a six year old girl, would be impressed. “I will open it.”
I started kicking that green-labeled can up the alley. Nothing. Harder. Hey, a little bit of white goop appeared at one spot. Pow! I gave it everything I had. Yep! That did it — to me. White, linseed oil-based, turpentine-thinned enamel splattered up to the knee of my jeans with a good solid coat over the top of my left sneaker and now penetrating my sock.
The gasps resounded up and down the alley.
“What you gonna tell your mom?” Stevie yelled in a panic.
Oh, the horror! My mom! What would she do? Oh, I had to…
Lie. It was the very first time that I can consciously remember deciding to tell a lie — and it was to my own mom. “I’ll tell her I was kicking the can and didn’t know paint was in it.” I heard my heart scream “NO.” For the first time, too.
Or maybe it was Andie screaming. “You can’t tell your mom a lie!”
But Stevie was helping me out, for a few seconds anyway. “You were kicking the can.”
But I looked down. “I, my jeans, oh, no they cost so much.” When I looked up, they were running. (This wouldn’t be the first time that would happen.)
I lied. My mom knew it. She looked at me and said, “Mikey, what really happened.”
I cried. Ego had won, and I still lied after that. Not pathologically but sometimes just to keep myself out of trouble.
We really do have egos as part of our personalities that rationalize almost anything to protect us. We can listen to protective warnings, but we shouldn’t listen to rationalizations that can lead to destruction.
Hearts, though, that’s where truth and answers are. I’m sure I would have had the right words and not broken trust with my mother if I had just said thought NO when that lie popped into my mind. Never too young, or old, to learn the heart’s truths.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!