I am relatively certain Charles Lutwidge Dodgson had no idea that his novel, written in 1865, would have a profound effect on my life. Actually, it all began with the animated adaptation of his famous work; which I first viewed sometime prior to my eighth birthday. Little did I know that a surly blue caterpillar, sucking away on his hookah, would serve as one of my favorite sources of wisdom these forty years later. As I am certain you have guessed by now, I of course speak of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” penned under the name of Lewis Carroll.
The cinematic version of this classic work left its intended impression upon my adolescent mind. Walt Disney assured that I was entertained and walked away with the knowledge that I should never descend into rabbit holes. Along the way, I was treated to colorful characters, an enjoyable sound track, and a healthy fear of short men in top hats with tea kettles in their hands!
As an adult, I decided that it was time to actually read many of the classics that had inspired me in their silver screen versions. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was no exception to this pledge! As the words leapt off the page at me, I was awestruck by just how dark the work really was. It took several chapters before I realized that “literary nonsense” had been created by design, and that there was nothing wrong with my apparent lack of comprehension!
The vast menagerie of characters brought to life by Carroll each had their particular impact on both my adolescent and adult minds. But perhaps nobody made a bigger impression on me than the caterpillar with the hookah. His interrogation of Alice begins with the simple words, “Who are you?” He then drives Alice through a series of questions and demands that at first glance appear to be simple gibberish. However, upon closer examination; we see that the puffing caterpillar is helping Alice realize that she has an identity crisis.
Setting aside his chain-smoking ways, the caterpillar has served me well as a role model. His never-ending stream of questions have inspired me to examine my life over the years. Three simple words have forced me analyze not only who I am, but also what I believe and what I stand for. I have been compelled to dissect my inner fabric, reevaluate my priorities, and ask myself what is truly important in life. All of this because an azure insect with nicotine-stained teeth uttered “Who are you?”
Each of us has to face the caterpillar at some point or another in our lives. It is convenient to get caught up the routine of the day, sheltered by a never-ending list of tasks that must be accomplished. We go out of our ways to be sure that we do not waste a single waking moment. For that matter, most of us have an excessive amount of waking moments; becoming a society of sleep-deprived zombies! When we finally determine that we need a little down time; we anesthetize ourselves with a fast-acting, television-based, mind-numbing agent!
Perhaps it is time for each of us to crawl down our own respective rabbit hole. There is a surreal adventure awaiting each and every one of us within the burrow. In the safety of an underground fantasy land, we are liberated to admit that we possess a lack of identity. The first thing that we need to acknowledge is that we have been living an illusion above ground. We have insulated ourselves so thickly in who we should be that we have lost sight of who we truly are. Challenged by what may seem absurd at first; the simplest of situations and events, no matter how non-sensical, serve to open our eyes. In short, we are awakened from our self-imposed slumber and thrust into self-examination.
When you round the corner on the path and run into the hookah-smoking caterpillar seated on a giant mushroom; how will you answer his simple question? “Who are you?” Have you ever honestly asked yourself this question? More importantly, have you ever honestly answered the question? The reply is not based upon what you do for a living, where you live, or what others think about you! The correct response can only be found deep within your very being. What do you believe in that nobody can change? Do you have a personal code of “right” and “wrong?” What are you willing to die for? Therein lies your answer.
In my late teens, I was introduced to a wonderful rock song. It too made a strong impact on my life. I am certain that the caterpillar with the hookah would approve as well. However, “Who are You?” by the Who is a blog post unto itself!