“Don’t do anything for your kids,” he said with a mischievous look in his eyes, “and then they won’t expect anything from you.”

Pat laughed, as he did after so many things he said, then I laughed too. His personality filled the space between us, like an air bag, as it did often, and not just with me. He was easy to be with, and safe. He often quipped about his profession, the noble art of house painting, by saying, “Women like a man in uniform.”

Personality can be hard to define, but when you are up close to a unique one, you know it. With Pat there was this casual, relaxed honesty that included a keen wit, a self-effacing humor and a willingness to let the “somebody slot” be filled by somebody besides him. The “somebody slot” is that opening which occurs when people talk,  an opening for one of the parties to be important. Pat gave other people room to be the star around him — he even invited it. This invitation, this ease, this opportunity —  it rubbed off on you, like fresh paint, a kind of fluid sociality, with no rules.

I told Pat once, “I’m my worst self around you.” We laughed. It was a compliment.

Everybody has one, a personality,  but not everyone lets it out to play. It would be nice if they did, and not just the extroverts. Personality is fun to experience, in ourselves and others. Shy is good, when we to see it peek out, a subtle, beautiful demeanor, lovely in the same way as deer.  And loud is good too. Loud is like a sunflower shouting its bright yellow.  And there are so many fun personalities! I  love gentle, sincere, kind selves.  I especially like droll, sarcastic or wry personalities.

I also like sass, sometimes. “If you don’t like me, there is something wrong with you,” one of my young friends quipped to me recently. I like her.

What is personality? Personality is the tuxedo of the soul.

Personality is our inner self showing up in our outer clothing. Personality dresses itself in gestures, postures, animations, idiosyncrasies and vocalizations. My cat, Shanaynay, has more personality that most three people combined. She yowls, huffs, purrs, begs, greets and deftly inserts herself into any possible opportunity given to play, eat, snuggle or snooze with anyone!

Personality is the expression of the unique self that arrises out of the distinctive core — like magna oozing from the earth. When we encounter it in others, it leaves us with a whiff of them, their cachet, their mark, their social signature. This is deep; it is spiritual; it is residue of the image of God in us.

When I left one of my older friends recently I could still smell her social perfume in the air after she was gone. It was the  fragrance “graciousness,” with sweet, woody notes of gentleness and non-judgment.

But in any one person, we must be careful not to constrain or warp their personality by labels and categories. Personality is a complex kind of thing, made up out of traits and states that swirl together and separate again like the Northern lights. Traits in us persist, but states (as in “I’m in such a state”) come and go. This morning, for a moment, I was grouchy. It left me shortly. The moment of grouch is normal for all of us, and so is the moment of temporary insanity, but these moments do not and should not define us.

But say they do, the dark moods, begin to define us. It’s possible. Something caustic, cynical, critical, mean and dark may overtake us. Then we should get help, and change, as a form of mercy, for the rest of the living, or if we cannot, we should at least remain at home — and not post on Facebook.

Personality can change, heal as it were. Mine has. Thirty years ago, “cautiously reserved” might have fit me. Now, at times, ” wild and crazy” might be much more suitable.  The wall flower may one day climb the wall. I have a friend who is basically shy, but she is getting good at speech making. Out of her shy person she is learning to bring a new, public persona of confidence.

But whether it morphs or not, personality, in all its diverse forms, is something to savor, like a good wine, in ourselves and others. It is also something to learn to give, as a gift, to ourselves and others.

If I could do anything for the many fearful people whom I know, it would be to set them free to be all that God originally designed them to be — unique personalities. Their personalities might yet be the secret sauces of their success.

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