On being ... who?

By Ingrid Sapona

Last night a movie I wanted to watch on t.v. was pre-empted by a football game. I was very disappointed because I had finished all my work with the intention of sitting down and enjoying it. Frustrated, I flipped through a few shows, landing on a situation comedy (“Samantha Who?”) that I’d never seen, or even heard of. Here’s the local t.v. guide’s description of the show’s premise: “Sam …awakens from a coma with her memory completely gone. As she assembles the puzzle pieces, she realizes that the Old Sam was not a very nice person. Maybe with her slate literally wiped clean, she can become someone completely different.”

The premise seemed hackneyed and I expected some kind of sit com version of Anastasia. Every episode (they were doing a mini-marathon, showing four back-to-back) featured Sam trying to figure out the answer to questions like, “Have we met?”, “Do I know you?”, and “Do I like this (or that)?” And of course, being a comedy, only a few of the characters know about her memory problem and she tries to fit into her old life by basically playing along and faking it.

So, for example, when invited to a birthday party for her friend Rene at a trendy club, she persuades her boyfriend Todd to go with her because Todd can help her by filling in some details about her life, should she need that. While Todd is parking the car, Sam goes into the club and is immediately pulled into the coat room and is passionately kissed by someone -- you guessed it -- that she doesn’t recognize. Soon she finds out from her girlfriend that the guy from the coat room is Rene, Sam’s married lover. And, following the strict tradition of the bedroom farce, much of the rest of the episode is spent trying to hide Rene from Todd. But the interesting part is that “New Sam” -- the woman who emerged from the coma -- is appalled by the idea that “Old Sam” was the type to cheat on her boyfriend and was the type to do so with a married man.

In another episode, Sam finds out she was invited to be a bridesmaid, but when she shows up at the wedding, she learns she’d been un-invited because the bride was mad at her. Realizing she’s hated, Sam tries hard to win the bride’s friendship back. She does, but in the process she realizes the bride and others in the bridal party are shallow and two-faced, causing her to question the kind of person she was, given that she hung out with such people and that acceptance by them was so important to her.

I ended up quite engrossed by the show because in each episode New Sam ends up in a situation that causes her to reflect on the choices Old Sam made in life -- things like the friends she chose (the two-faced folks in the “in crowd”), the work she did (for an unethical boss intent on making money at the expense of the poor), her relationships with various people (like her parents, whom she hadn’t spoken to in two years), and her excessive spending (she’d run up a $30,000 credit card debt). And, after catching a glimpse of the consequences of some of Old Sam’s choices, New Sam makes different, better choices -- choices that make her more content. In other words, New Sam realizes that who she is is reflected in the choices she’s made.

The show somehow reminded me of a comment someone said to me as I was getting ready to move to Holland for my first job after grad school. I was excited, but nervous about moving to a country where I didn’t speak the language and where I didn’t know a soul. The comment was, “Just think -- you can be anyone you want to be. You can completely re-invent yourself because no one will know anything about you!”

At that age (mid-20s), I was finally feeling mature and comfortable enough with who I was as a person that the thought of re-inventing myself seemed crazy, not to mention scary. I also knew that a good deal of effort would be needed to overcome how much I would miss my friends and family and that whatever energy might be left over would be needed just to make my way in a new place -- never mind trying to re-invent myself.

I didn’t re-invent myself in Holland, and if I were to find myself surrounded by people who didn’t know anything about me today -- or if something happened and I didn’t remember much about my past -- I don’t think I’d end up being that different. To put it another way, I don’t think New Ingrid would be that different from Old Ingrid. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t think there’s room for improvement. But before you can make any changes, you really need a firm grasp of who you are -- and that’s where the idea underlying “Samantha Who?” comes in – the notion that to know who we are we should look at the choices we’ve made.

So, on this eve of a new year -- rather than making resolutions or setting lofty goals, I think I’ll spend some time reflecting on the choices I’ve made (big and small) with a view toward considering whether all the consequences that have flowed from them are what I hoped and intended and whether they truly enrich my life and lead to greater happiness for me and for others in my life. Who knows, maybe 2008 will see a New Ingrid.

Happy New Year!

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


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