One time, when I was young, a therapist told me that I didn't know who I was.
I rolled my eyes.
"Well then, who are you?" she asked.
I didn't have an answer. "Who are YOU?" I shot back at her.
She laughed. "I asked you, first," she said.
So, I'm much older, now, and I still think it's a stupid question.
Who are you?
I'm not sure I have an answer. I have a bunch of labels and characteristics I could give you.
I'm a woman. I'm in my thirties. I grew up poor in a revival church. I am a mother. An atheist. A loud mouth. I'm funny. I'm intense, or something like that. I believe in science. I'm a writer, right? I'm prone to bouts of desperation. I used to be reckless, and now I'm restrained. I like swimming. I'm a water person. I'm an outdoors type of person. I think too much. I talk too much. I like eating food.
Is that who I am?
It seems like maybe those are the things I build up around myself because the world seems to need to define me. The world seems comfortable with me if they can say, "I know who she is. She's liberal and fat and dramatic."
That's who I am to some people.
To my kids, I am hilarious and soft and amazing. To them, I represent boundaries and love and a big, strong, beautiful body that gives them comfort.
Is that who I am?
The thing about who we are, is that we're really all the same.
I'm big and bold and full of worries, and there is a quiet one inside of me that watches everything I do, and everything that happens around me. That quiet one is who I believe I am. And I believe you have a quiet one inside of you, too.
Our quiet ones are sad and hopeful. Our quiet ones believe in good, and they also believe in pain. They get buried by our minds, our thoughts, our commentary on everything. They get buried in the definitions of us, in the way the world needs to see us. They stand silently behind all of the ways we judge ourselves, grieving softly for the injury it causes.
Who we are isn't woman and mom and good cook and grew up in a trailer park.
Who we are is an animal, inside.
Behind what we think and the judgements we make, behind the labels and characteristics we gather and pile up around ourselves to define who we are, we are a stone and a shadow and the branch of a tree. We are glowing and tentative and ancient. Behind who we really aren't, we are a gentle animal inside, watching and waiting and grieving and loving.
We all want the same things, in the blood and breath of what we are. We are all the same creature. We don't really hate who we hate. We don't really feel mad about the things that trigger our tempers. We aren't really us and them. We don't really believe in the quick judgements we make about the choices of other people. We don't really like to make one another feel bad. We do, though. We make one another feel bad, because we don't respect the animals, inside. We don't warm ourselves by the heat of the stone at the pit of our being. And we don't recognize the quiet ones in the people around us.
We see other people as being a list of labels, and we believe we know who they are, and all the while, a soft, quiet animal waits behind what we allow ourselves to see. We pretend the quiet ones aren't there with our minds, but we feel them with our hearts. Every time we say an unkind word, we justify it with our thoughts and commentary, but we feel the heat and wrongness of it, in our gut. Some people get so far away from their soft, sad animals that they almost can't feel the wrongness of it, anymore. Sometimes we are all that way, a little bit.
I want to be more of who I am, and less of the list of things that people need to define me. I want to get closer to the quiet one, inside of me, and to allow myself to get closer to the animal in you.