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The Great Pretender!

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When I was just a teenager I couldn’t get the Platters’ 1955 hit song “The Great Pretender” out of my skull. “Oh, yes, I’m the great pretender. Pretending that I’m doing well. My need is such, I pretend too much. I’m lonely but no one can tell.” 

While the song was about losing a girlfriend, the words and melody touched my heart in a deeper way. After all, what adolescent doesn’t pretend to be confident and assured when inside they feel as insecure as a flower in a shallow vase, and, like the Great Pretender who acts with bravado, they can’t help but wear their heart “like a crown”? I still can’t get that melancholy song out of my head!………

So many of my friends exuded a confidence and sense of humor, while I had to pretend to be Sid Caesar, the funniest guy in the room, or Ernie Banks, the best ballplayer on the team. Anything to belong. 

It was only when we all became old that I learned that my friends, too, all of them, had suffered lack and loss of one kind or another but kept it to themselves, and had to fake it to make it as much as I did. We were all “The Great Pretender,” the overachiever who seemed to be what he’s not.

We all pretty much settled into our own selves through the passage of time but not without trial and error and the healing pain that comes through the heat of spiritual transformation. Still, I pretend to be mature when I know I peaked emotionally at 12, and wise when I know I don’t know anything for sure. Does that ring a bell with you?

Yup, the inner child who learned early on that he wasn’t good enough is alive and well and wailing in the hearts of us all, “Love me! I’ll pretend to be anything so you will love me!”

My biggest temptation is to pretend to be smart when most of the time I don’t know what I’m talking about. Even when I get the words right, I know I don’t apply them consistently in my life. 

I don’t know why we pretend, but I have observed that we all become what we pretend to be, so it is best to pretend to be what we really are: beloved children of God, safe and secure in the arms of Love.

When the strains of “The Great Pretender” get stuck in my brain, I try to see others as God sees me, made in the image and likeness of goodness and love. How I see others, I see myself. And what I do unto others, I do to myself. Lovingkindness, to others and ourselves, is the only cure I know for the existential confusion that comes with being human.

So then (and I hope this is the helpful part), here is my practice, a practice I’ve committed to even when I’m down and out and feeling blue. When the phone rings, before I answer it, or before I call someone myself and they have yet to pick up the receiver, I say, “I love you.” Love changes what might have been an ordinary or even a troubling conversation into an encounter more valuable than a gold record. 

When I walk down the street, I smile at whoever is walking toward me and say “Hi!” realizing that this individual doesn’t want to harm me but is, in fact, me. Invariably, she or he smiles back. And my smile increases. If it’s two or more people, it multiplies. 

The only exception (and it doesn’t happen often) is a male adolescent who can’t get “The Great Pretender” out of his head, even if he never heard it before. Oh, how I know him, and love him, as well as I know and love myself!

By Michael Leach                  Thanks to Nadin Sh for the photo

A longer version of this story appeared in the April 26-May 9, 2024 print issue of the National Catholic Reporter under the headline: Aren’t we all like Freddie Mercury?

Do YOU ever think of YOUSELF as “The Great Pretender?” Do YOU ever say “Hi!” to whoever is walking toward you on the street? When the phone rings, might YOU ever say “I love you” before YOU answer it? 

THE HEART WITH COMPASSION IS THE CATHEDRAL OF GOD!

This Message makes you think. Do share it with others: www.TreatsfortheSoul.org. Please listen to my Podcast. 

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