The perks of being mistakenly recognized as a famous actor eventually waned when I recognized real fame.
I live in Greenwich Village, in a modest apartment that happens to be on a somewhat un-modest block. The west side of this block in particular (the opposite end from mine), has a couple of very fancy buildings on it.
These buildings have a lot of well-to-do people living in them. For several years, one of these people was a movie actor who plays character roles--mostly in comedies--who happens to look like me.
Not too long after this actor moved in, I began to notice something strange. Walking into stores and restaurants around the neighborhood, I would find myself receiving different treatment than I was used to. People brightened upon my entrance, and service was fast--really fast.
Eventually, my wife figured out what was going on. "They think you're somebody else," she said one day, after a waiter at an Italian restaurant around the corner from our apartment explained that there was no charge for the lunch we'd ordered.
After a while, this improved treatment began to wear on me. It was fun, but it was also subtly demoralizing. After all, these waiters, druggists, and dry-cleaning people who seemed so happy to see me weren't really happy to see me at all. They only thought they were.
The actor eventually moved, and I went back to being treated like a regular customer. But the weird combination of pleasure and discomfort I'd felt during the months when he'd lived there stuck with me.
It wasn't too long after my famous pseudo-twin left my block that I happened to read an essay by C. S. Lewis called "The Weight of Glory." This essay turned out, providentially enough, to be on the subject of fame, or--same difference--"glory."
There is no getting away, Lewis says in this essay, from the fact that glory was an extremely important concept for early Christian writers. In fact, it's one of the chief rewards promised to the faithful.
Lewis confesses that he at first found this idea very distasteful. "Glory," he writes, "suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means to me fame, or it means luminosity. As for the first, since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven. As for the second, who wishes to become a kind of living electric light bulb?"
Lewis's solution to this problem came when he realized that there was a subtle but all-important difference between worldly fame/glory and the kind the writers of the New Testament were talking about. The latter, Lewis explains, isn't "fame conferred by our fellow creatures," but "fame with God."
The notion of being famous with God sounds ridiculous at first, but what it describes is, in fact, an experience that the sages of many a religious tradition know about. As the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo put it, "our mind and ego are like the crown and dome of a temple jutting out from the waves while the great body of the building is submerged under the surface of the waters." That larger, "submerged" part of ourselves, the world's spiritual traditions suggest, is who we really are. But because we are, more often than not, out of touch with this larger, better portion of ourselves--because we so often feel like we are only that small and insecure surface self that we mostly show to the world--we fear that our larger self is doomed to go unrecognized forever. Sometimes we even begin to doubt that it exists at all.
The fact is that I--like so many other people--really do want to be a star. But the kind of star I want to be isn't the kind that appears in movies or gets free meals at Italian restaurants (not that being that kind wouldn't be fun). The real "recognition" I feel myself hankering for is ultimately not worldly recognition at all, but otherworldly. It's experiencing the fact that my truest and deepest self is entirely preserved, upheld, and known by something, or someone, infinitely larger than I am--even at those moments when I feel most lost and divorced from my own true identity.
True fame or glory, wrote Lewis in that same essay, means "acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things." It's the promise that "the door on which we have been knocking all our lives will be open at last."
Now that's stardom worth shooting for.
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