the myth of the second act

After making a considerable change, am I showing up as myself in this new landscape or am I just sneaking in after intermission?

The idea of becoming someone new is tremendously seductive. The phrase “reinventing yourself” has 2.7 million hits on Google. And to be honest, why not? How much of a mess have we all made with our lives (especially as we reach the Great Middle) and wish we could do it all again, or at least start out on a different path?

After living in New York City for almost twenty years, I recently moved back to the place where I grew up: York, Pennsylvania. It’s where most of my family lives, and it holds a deep sense of place for me. It is truly a gift to call the place where you grew up your home, and I am grateful for that gift. I’m where I’m supposed to be. But I want to make sure I’m showing up as who I really am.

In this day and age of bag-checking security and ticket scanners, I doubt that one can any longer practice second acting, a less than ethical but needs-based method to sneak into the second act of a show after intermission. All you need to do is mingle in with all the smokers on the steps of the theater after Act One and then saunter back in with them, find an empty seat, and enjoy the second act free of charge.

I think there is a metaphysical corollary to second acting, especially when it comes to personal reinvention. If I just show up and insert myself in this new situation, I’ll be fine. Don’t be mindful about what happened here before, whether or not I made a meaningful personal investment, or consider who I authentically am, but just find an empty seat and join in. Isn’t that what the great American second act is about?

I don’t believe in second acts, or third, fourth, fifth or hundredth acts for that matter. We are solidly who we are, wherever we are. Or more plainly: wherever you go, there you are. There is a freedom in bringing all the parts, good and bad, along with us. This Florida Scott-Maxwell quote sums that up like a shock to the heart.

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done … you are fierce with reality.”
– Florida Scott-Maxwell

Being “fierce with reality” isn’t about craftily putting myself into a new place without anyone noticing, it’s about bringing everything I am to this moment, cresting a long-building wave that dissolves into wholeness. It’s also about waiting with an expectant heart and sitting in humility. Am I trying to manipulate the situation and myself or I am exploring a new kind of simplicity: remarkably ordinary, terrifically everyday, yet unthinkably apparent?

All my previous ideas about vocation are ending up in the dustbin of the other ego-driven nonsense with which I’m trying to dispense. I’m practicing letting go of the desire to succeed, the desire to have it all figured out, the desire to be sure, the desire to be who I think I’m supposed to be rather than who I am. Today isn’t about showing up after a long intermission. It’s a mindful continuation, a humble way of being part of a community, and making a sustainable effort to observe that in this quiet late autumn, the silent fields are busy in ways unseen.


the Hellam Hills on Druck Valley Road


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