A mistake must have been made. I was an imposter. No doubt that error would shortly be discovered and I would be plucked from the platform like a false feather hiding amidst the plumage of a peacock. And yet all I saw was warm smiles that normally would have made me feel at ease. It all seemed too strange to be real.
I’ve always known that pride puts one on a pillar from which one is ever prone to plummet to disgrace. Accolades and honours can so easily feed the insatiable appetite of egotism. Acclaim and adulation create addictions and false realities. What is more frightening is the fact that all of us, at some time or other, seek attention and applause to assuage our insecurity. Despite our self-proclaimed humility the allure of the limelight casts its spell. Five minutes of fame? “Not me”, I delude myself.
That’s the trouble with recognition. It betrays our weakness, our need for appreciation…and maybe more. In our eagerness to be accepted, acknowledged and approved of we become skillful at unobtrusively introducing our accomplishments in public. Why? Why must we be patted on the back? Why must we, like children in the playground swinging high or running fast, proclaim, “Look at me. Look at me”? Why is it so difficult to deal humbly with victory and success, and shamelessly with defeat and failure?
As the challenges of Parkinson’s disease continue to mount, and others look on sympathetically, the battle between humility and hubris builds. We seem to tightly clutch our titles and our trophies, anticipating anonymity. Past pinnacles of success seem to crumble, replaced by crevices of self-doubt. It is as if our shuffling, stiffening and shaking betray the clever schemes we use to hide our obvious inadequacy.
Four weeks ago on that auditorium platform amidst professorial splendor, wearing my newly acquired academic regalia, an honorary doctorate of laws was conferred on me. I was conflicted and confused. Like most, I have a problem responding well to a compliment, let alone an honor such as this. Sincerity and humility hung in the balance. Self-evaluation of either proved impossible. So I imagined the face of my departed Father smiling from the audience, even as my mother in the front row smiled in fact and shed a tear. His approval was enough. And when congratulations came I shook each hand as if it were my Dad’s, and heard his silent warning, “Now be careful lest you fall, son.”