That’s what my nephew asked me the other day. He’s three, and with the seriousness of a national news correspondent, he looked up at me and asked, “Who are you, liz?”
How do you respond to that? At first I was confused. “I’m Liz,” I responded. But he looked at me with total stupor and said, “No, who ARE you?”
Who AM I? Who AM I? ……who am I.
The depth of his question threw me off guard. Like I knew he did, he knew I was his Aunt Liz. He knew I was Granny’s daughter, and DaDa and Aunt Line’s sister. But still he asked who I was.
Sure, we can label ourselves. We are daughters, sisters, students, friends, teachers, leaders, followers, the list can go on forever. We’ve labeled ourselves for years. It helps us, and others, neatly put us into boxes where we can be catalogued and indexed for future reference. It makes things easy, and it gives us a way to hide behind who we think we are.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” ~Kurt Vonnegut
We accept the labels given to us and keep them throughout our lives. Yeah, our labels change. We lose some and gain some. And sometimes we even mold ourselves to better fit a given label because it’s just easier. A label we once feared becoming, now doesn’t seem so bad. Sometimes we don’t like our labels and strive to change them. And sometimes, we are changed irrevocably by those around us. And sometimes the labels get stacked one on top of another like clearance isle items so that it’s hard to tell which label is actually a true representation of us.
But I don’t think we ever actually know who we are. And more importantly, I don’t think we ever should. Figuring out who we are is a process that requires growing up. It requires exploring, wondering, questioning, searching, trying new things. It’s a result of making mistakes, coloring outside the lines, asking forgiveness, taking a leap of faith. It requires you to live. And the moment that you know for certain who you are, is the moment that all this stops.
The moment that you grow up and stop learning, or worse, stop wanting to learn is the moment everything stops. When you’ve decided that you’ve already grown up as much as you can, you’re done, there’s no purpose. When you decide that you are fully confident that you know who you are, you stop living. And that’s just sad. The wonder and amazement that my nephews posses just makes me smile. The surprise when one of them finally figured out how to use a water gun, or the shocked look where they can’t quite decide if that crash on the pavement hurt more than it scared them is wonderful to watch. The fact that right now Benjamin wants nothing more than to grow up to be a fireman just makes me happy.
You see, we’ve lost this. We’ve stopped reveling in the small surprises, and hoping for simple things. Heck, those wax string toys from Zaxby’s? Yeah, those can amuse me for an hour. I still get excited over a cupcake or a new tube of play-doh. And I still wonder. And I still dream. I still hope, and wish on shooting stars (or airplanes if its cloudy), and I still throw coins into wishing wells. I love kids because they haven’t been ruined by life yet. With the wave of my hand, I can steal their nose, and they always laugh at my knock knock jokes. We have to regain some of this wonder. Captain Hook had it right when he said “Growing up is such a barbarous business, full of inconvenience!” But unlike Peter Pan and the lost boys, we have to grow up eventually. But we need to enjoy the process and take the time to figure out who we are. We don’t yet know who we are, and we can’t pretend we do.
Only one thing in life is a constant. And that’s Time. Everything else can change… and will change. We change, we have to.
So who am I, Benjamin? I don’t know. And I’m okay with that. But I look forward to figuring it out.
“We don’t know who we are, but we know who we aren’t. And we know who we don’t want to be.”