Decades back, anthropologist Loren Eiseley in an essay, “The Ghost Continent,” visited the idea that “every man contains within himself a ghost continent – a place circled as warily as Antarctica was circled 200 years ago by Capt. James Cook … he will see strange shapes amidst his interior ice floes and be fearful of exposing to the ridicule of his fellows what he has seen.”

What Eiseley intimates is the otherness of each person’s being. We see and can know the other but not the other’s latent otherness.

In my study is a photo-portrait of my wife Evelyn. She is from Boston and I have called that picture “The Boston Woman” – not Boston as in “Beacon Hill Brahmin,” but Boston as in “Commonwealth Avenue three blocks from the Public Gardens.” It is where she lived while we were courting.

I think I know this woman in the photograph, yet something about her demeanor that the camera captured suggests an interior otherness that lies beyond my knowing. Tranquility rules her countenance. Looking directly into the camera – in effect at me, this woman seems bemused by what she means to me. It’s the Mona Lisa aspect of “The Boston Woman” that intriguingly hints of something withheld. Affectionately, I ponder the hold this photograph has upon me, sensing that in it she has alerted me to this otherness of her being.

This otherness of our beings – what is it? It would be easy to filter what I am saying through the jargon of contemporary psychology. Rather, let me say plainly that each one of us is a composite of genetic givens, relational experiences and chance’s enigmatic arithmetic. This is the whole self. All of life has gone into the making of this self. But what others get in relating to us is not a seeing of this whole self.

Concealed is this “ghost continent” of which Eiseley wrote – that vigilantly guarded interior region from whence both the memory of our dreams and our betrayals arise. It is also within this region of our otherness where are found the broken relics of both our shame and our hurt. Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote of those remnants of the hidden self: “We all got secrets. I got them same as everybody else – things we feel bad about and wish hadn’t ever happened. Hurtful things. Long ago things. We’re all scared and lonesome, but most of the time we keep it hid.”

Still, this interior region of our being is often disinclined to stay hidden. In spite of our guarding, our hidden otherness wills to play a commanding role in the making of who we are, turning up, in the words of poet Louis Jenkins, “regularly, like a politician at public functions.”

The fact is that this invisible aspect of our selves makes all the difference in the presentation of the self. In reality, few of us can know or tell the whole truth about ourselves. Nevertheless, this otherness of our being seems to have its place, and its presence may be the price exacted for living.

Through the years, as we come to better understand who we are and how we have come to have the faces we now wear, we would be wise to test the validity and meaning – even edit away – some of those storied chapters of our otherness, soiled and blotted by the spilled bottle of past happenings.

We can learn to relinquish hurtful memory. The poet Tennyson wrote of creating harmony between this duality of our being:

Let knowledge grow more and more,

But more of reverence in us dwell;

The mind and soul, according well,

May make one music as before.

Our story is also the story of these others whose lives are contingent on our own. For this reason it is asked of us that we “cut some slack” in our judgments of one another. Love these others in their diversity and sometimes unloveliness, knowing that in each person there is this “ghost continent” where is guarded an otherness not unlike our own interior selves.

No one upon arrival in this world received an accompanying map warning of the dark places within our otherness and how to escape them.

It would be well then that we practice traversing this ghostly region of our interior selves in the spirit of labyrinthian prayer.

Who knows but that in making this pilgrimage toward self-knowledge we might encounter all-embracing God, who will have posited love’s merciful affirmations within this interior region of our self and in the countenance of the other – lovely or unlovely.

God’s love from Eden to the present has a preference for building its nest in the face of our neighbor, whom Jesus called us to love as we love ourselves.

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation emeritus at First Parish Church in Saco.