The final scene of the film Flight takes place in a prison yard around a picnic table. Will has come to visit his father, Captain “Whip” Whitaker. The Captain is thrilled that his son is visiting and greets him enthusiastically, after some small talk the following exchange takes place:
WILL: My college counselor thought I should come and interview you.
WHIP: Great. An interview. Okay.
WILL: I’m writing essays for college applications. So can you help me
with this essay?
WHIP: Yeah. Of course.
WILL: The essay I have to do is called, “the most fascinating person I’ve
never met.” So…who are you?
WHIP: Good question.
Flight chronicles the struggle of an airline pilot coming to grips with his alcoholism and the consequences of his years of drinking and doing drugs. All of this takes place in the context of a plane crash on which he was the captain of the flight crew. Denzel Washington gives an excellent portrayal of the airline captain, “Whip” Whitaker.
Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows how daunting the question, “Who are you?” truly is. Most of your energy has been focused on avoiding this question, instead escaping into whatever your addiction of choice was at the time. You used the addiction to dull the messages of worthlessness, failure, and hopelessness embedded in you. The pain became insurmountable, the addiction gave you a short escape from the anxiety and hurt that overwhelms your conscious moments. As time goes by, it takes more and more of the addiction to cover the pain. Maybe you experienced one of those “hitting bottom” moments, or perhaps you came to the realization of your problem in another manner, but either way you realize you need to change. In recovery, you realize that answering the question, “Who are you?” is a key component to staying sober and maintaining balance in your life.
I spent the better part of the first half of my life avoiding the question through addictive behaviors. Like many who have taken this route, I thought that once I had identified some responses to the question I was set, and life would be good from that point on. What I am learning is that answering this question is a process, a process that will continue until I die.
This question of who I am is core to existential therapy and is not limited to just individuals struggling with addiction. Every person must wrestle with who he or she is or why he or she exists. In addition, the question of meaning and purpose requires constant re-evaluation. The final answer only emerges when one dies.
As I come closer to my seventh decade on this planet, I am again wrestling with my sense of meaning and purpose. However, the focus now concerns my legacy—how do I want to be remembered? Putting this question in black and white makes the question more foreboding and significance to the answer.
One of the definitions The Collins World Dictionary gives legacy is “something handed down or received from an ancestor or predecessor.” As the baby boomer generation ages, I believe the question of legacy will become a central theme in the media, in books and articles, as well as in therapy. Many individuals will seek out assistance in defining and refining their vestige of his or her existence. As boomers age, I believe, individuals will, like Captain Whitaker, respond “good question” when asked, “Who are you?” and have little or no answer. It will befall the therapeutic community to assist these individuals in creating a remnant he or she believes is worth handing down to the generations to follow.
As a generation, we have lived lives filled with addictive behaviors—living beyond our means, filling our lives with “stuff” (as George Carlin would say), chasing status and position at the expense of family and lasting relationships. As a generation, we started out challenging the values and priorities of those who preceded us. Now, as my generation moves into their 50s, 60s, and 70s, I think it is more than ironic that a song from our youth may well be our epithet.
Well, who are you? I really wanna’ know . . .
Tell me, who are you? ‘Cause I really wanna’ know . . .
Flight. J. Gatins. http://www.paramountguilds.com/pdf/flight_screenplay.pdf
legacy. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/legacy
J. G. Brookhouse, M. Drummond, B. Volpeliere-Pierrot, M.J. Mcevoy, and N.B. Thorp. Who are you?. Performed by The Who. Universal Music Publishing Group. Nashville, TN
— Steve Fehl
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