“To Be, or Not . . . .” column, Aug. 14, 2012

One of the things I love about my home state, North Carolina, is its motto: “Esse quam videri,” which means, I am told, “To be, rather than to seem.”
I learned that bit of trivia long after I had left the South to live my life and rear my children in California, where the state motto is _ guess what?
No. It is not “Whoopee!”
It is “Eureka!” which means, I am told, “I have found it!”
I could speak at length on the contrasts, not to mention the ironies, of living ones life in two distant places with cultures that some might say are about as different as different gets.
My mother, were she living, would gladly expound on that.
But what struck me this morning _ for reasons I hope to make apparent, if you will kindly bear with me _ was this: As different as those places may seem, their mottos are remarkably similar.
Or so I like to think.
Both speak of contentment _ a peace that comes with being who we are, with no need for pretense, and finding whatever we are looking for.
What do you think? Does one follow the other _ the being and the finding? I don’t know why I think of such things. Sometimes they just stick in my mind like sand in the crotch of a Speedo.
It started this morning when I woke up thinking about some folks I met recently on a cross-country flight. Actually, I didn’t meet them. I sat behind them for five hours and listened to them talk. You can learn a lot about people that way.
A middle-aged couple (maybe married, maybe siblings) sat on either side of a very frail elderly woman they called “Mama.”
Mama, I surmised, was not keen on flying, and the couple were doing their best _ a truly impressive effort _ to make her believe that a jumbo jet flying at 40,000 feet was actually an SUV barreling down the freeway.
Mama wasn’t buying it.
“I need to get out,” she said.
“We’ll stop soon, Mama,” said the woman, patting her arm.
We hit an air pocket and several passengers, including Mama, shrieked.
“Whoa!” said the man, “that was big bump in the road!”
This went on until, luckily, Mama fell asleep. I considered ordering drinks for the couple but decided it was probably best that they stayed sober.
Shortly before landing, Mama woke up and announced very clearly that she wanted out.
“We’re almost there,” said the man. “The guy who’s driving is looking for a parking place.”
Seconds later, we landed with a thud and screeching brakes.
“Oh, Lord!” Mama screamed, “that guy can’t drive!”
It got a big laugh, especially from the flight attendants.
Somehow it reminded me of a card I sent my sister years ago showing a big-boned woman in a sensible swimsuit with a flirty little ruffle around the bottom. The caption read: “I think the ruffle helps, don’t you?”
Once, when I was driving my 4-year-old and his buddy Eric to preschool, we passed a car that sat covered with a canvas tarp. Eric laughed and pointed.
“Look at that,” he said. “Grownups are so dumb. Everybody knows there’s a car under there.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
Most of us, I think, want to be, rather than to seem. Nobody likes a phony. We all want to find what we’re looking for.
But what if what we’re looking for is the person we’re meant to be? What would happen if we helped each other find it?
We can pretend we’re on the ground if we’re flying through the air, but it won’t make the ride less bumpy. And ruffles only help if they make us feel better. Everybody still knows there’s a car under there. Maybe we should just be ourselves.

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