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What part of you would you have to lose to lose yourself?

Donald Clegg

I’d like you to try the following little thought experiment.

Imagine, if you will, a machine that will turn you into a different person. It will gradually take away your self, with a push of five buttons, replacing your personality with something else.

Now, without thinking about it too much, pick five changes – from least important to most – that will transform you into someone that you wouldn’t recognize.

What will it take to lose yourself? Mine came to me quickly, and I go away like this:

First push, I lose any interest in art, and, needless to say, am no longer a painter. It’s as if that part of me never existed.

Second, I turn into a … typical Republican. Wait, that’s too horrible; can’t go there, as “I” would already be gone, for sure. OK, I’m a libertarian.

Third, take away philosophy. Never read any, certainly haven’t done any myself, not an inquiring, questioning, speculating bone in my body.

Fourth, I’m a fundamentalist Christian with the whole package – Biblical inerrancy, young-earth creationist. Locked, loaded and rapture-ready.

Button No. 5, I’m illiterate. Goodbye.

So when did I depart?

I can imagine a “me” without art. I didn’t start painting until I was 23, so I was already a relatively well-formed adult, and I think I’d still be me without it. More impoverished, for sure, but unaware of it. Maybe I’d have a McDonald’s franchise.

Next, I’m a libertarian. Here’s where “I” start to get pretty fuzzy. I can kind of sort of go there, but that me begins to look so strange, I’m no longer sure who I am.

After that, I’m gone, gone, really gone. Take away philosophy and what’s left sure isn’t me. Ditto for fundie Don.

Illiterate? You have got to be kidding me. As the great Argentinean writer Jorge Borges said, “People say life’s the thing, but I prefer reading.”

So what did you lose before you were gone? Was it hard, even disillusioning, to watch your self disappear?

Personally speaking, I think disillusionment is a good, if sometimes painful thing to have happen. If I’m full of it, the sooner I lose it, the better.

I have pretty much a provisional outlook on everything these days, so much so that I regard even my most cherished beliefs with suspicion and doubt.

Case in point – Obama, hyperbolically graded, six months in: “Corporate lackey. Bush lite. Certainly impeachable, if he ‘stays the course.’ C-”

Here’s a sad-but-true tale (slightly altered to protect identities) that I heard recently, reflective of the dangers of absolute belief.

A young man and his newly wedded wife felt their sole purpose was to serve God (he was to become a minister) and share the Word with everyone they could.

Their faith was all-encompassing. God would always care and provide for and keep them from harm. They were good. God was good. Life would be good.

Then, the young man’s brother died by suicide. Poof. Faith and belief gone. God gone. For both of them, just like that.

I can only imagine the devastation of their double loss. I’m guessing (just guessing) that the loss of their God-illusion was as hard as the loss of the brother.

I know that hurt, though, as my brother also died by suicide, long ago. Thank Thor that I had no God to lose, as well.

My loss of belief at an early age, in a personal God, was a disillusionment so small that I don’t even recall it. But it was crushing to this young couple.

My motto: Don’t really, truly, believe in anything. Especially your self.

Donald Clegg, a longtime Spokane resident, is an author and professional watercolor artist. Contact him via e-mail at
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