I finished off acting in another show yesterday; one down, a lifetime more to go. This particular beauty was a piece of experimental theatre that was to test out our director’s master’s thesis. I’ll be honest, I’m still unclear about what he is theorizing, but it had something to do with the show progressively falling apart and making the audience increasingly uncomfortable.

He also wanted to see exactly how long it would take the audience to conclude that they were being manipulated. When we asked this question during the response period, a girl raised her hand and said that she knew it wasn’t real when my scene partner Heidi got upset. She was a girl we’d both been in a class with fall semester, and so she sort of knew us. But then she added “Mariah would get that upset, but not Heidi.”

Everyone laughed at the comment, including me, but I simultaneously added it to the warehouse of other similar comments I’ve heard from people my whole life that confuse me as to who they think I am. Even that scene partner Heidi, who has become a best friend, thought I might “beat her up” when we first met. Some people tend to come to the inexplicable conclusion that I’m always about to get angry, when in truth, I haven’t been genuinely angry a day in my life. This Tuesday marks 19 years that I’ve been hanging around on this earth, and I’ve still never heard a classifying comment about myself that I completely agree with.

There might be some abrasive exterior indicator that I’ve unknowingly failed to keep in check, but beyond that, I feel I’ve done very little to mislead peoples’ conclusions regarding my disposition. Not that many people conclude that I’m grumpy, but there’s always some conclusion or another based on what they see of me, when really what they’re seeing isn’t me, but what they bring out in me.

It crops up often in the context of only knowing someone from one show I’ve done with them. If the show was a comedy, they conclude that I’m a pretty funny gal; if it was dramatic, they tend to conclude that I’m committed and perhaps too serious sometimes, but I’m none of those things exclusively. Even in high school, I had a group of friends I did shows with and got to be crazy around and a separate friend to read poetry and discuss philosophy and enrich my intelligence with. But that meant that they think I’m one person, and he thinks I’m someone else.

My situation is not unique. I’m sure I’m as mistaken about other people as they are about me, because the people around me do things that defy my expectations of them all of the time. I think that most of us go through this life having a sense that no one really knows the essence of who we really are, and in some ways there’s no getting around that, and it’s a fact not likely to change anytime soon.

It gets to the point where no matter who I’m around, I feel unknown. Though I love my friends, I found myself sitting in the JFSB until midnight on Thursday, just to be in the same room with my parents as they finished an article. I didn’t talk, just sat there feeling understood.

There is another set of parents that knows us even better than that, and it’s in them that I find my comfort in the midst of the disorientation of off-the-cuff comments about my oh-so-classifiable tendencies.

I contrast the feeling I had walking out of the performance yesterday to the feeling I had when I got my patriarchal blessing. To have the hands of a practical stranger on my head as the words pouring out of his mouth captured me better than any I’d ever heard, was a sensation more than feeling known. I knew I was intimately understood.

When the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith, the first word spoken was his name. The more months I’m away from home, the more I begin to acutely understand the meaning of the words “hangs my helpless soul on thee” and yet in the little personalized tender mercies I encounter daily, I hear the Lord’s voice saying “Mariah” just as he said “Joseph.”

So even if a whole section of the BYU student body gets to thinking that I’m meaner than a junkyard dog, or just full of jokes, or only interested in literature, I know that the Lord knows my heart and knows that people’s misconceptions don’t make or mark me.