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Al Gore and Princess Diana

I’ve loved watching Al Gore become himself. For years, he was seen as wooden, lifeless, blood-less. Some of that perception was due to Republicans and lazy comedians, but there was also some truth in it. Despite his public demeanor, the people I met during those years who knew Al Gore uniformly said that in private he was funny, relaxed, personable and passionate. Ever since he “lost” the 2000 election, we’ve all seen the private Al emerge in public. And it’s been wonderful to watch.

I realized this morning that I felt the same way about Princess Diana once she left Prince Charles. Freed from her marriage and her royal position, she began to become herself. I mourned her more than I thought I would because her story was so promising and so suddenly incomplete. Likewise, John Lennon, whom I loved as a Beatle, I loved more when he left the Beatles. I still mourn his being murdered while still in his New York chrysalis.

At the same time, I’m suspicious of the metaphysics implicit in the notion of “becoming who you are.” It smacks of essentialism, as if we have a nature or destiny that is fixed. Yet, it is a nearly inescapable perception. There are changes that we can only describe by talk of someone becoming who she is. And even if the metaphysics is off, the process is joyous to behold.

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