As Americans, we are focused on identity: personal, school, neighborhood, corporate, national, and beyond. We raise the banners of football teams, geographical regions, religion, race, and so much more. We look for identity as if it were magic or currency.
We look for identity as if it were static. A given.
But as long as we are chugging along in our life bus, we will encounter new people, new ideas, new places, and experiences which add and sometimes buff away how we see the world and ourselves.
Instead of identity being something fixed like a monument or museum, human identity is fluid, dynamic, and expansive. Often we want to seek out our own identity and cling to it for safety which requires us to lash ourselves to something fixed. What can be fixed like a mountain can also be fixed as a boat anchor…dragging about the bottom of the sea.
Recently I read an article about Derek Black, son of a prominent white nationalist, who by diving deeper into the murky unknown of life, discovered he no longer shared his father’s…his family’s legacy of “white supremacy.” His story is one of brilliance, spouting the family line, heading to college, meeting new people, ostracism, and breaking bread with folks he’d earlier demeaned. In the process of his leaving his sheltered home base, he changed and his identity followed. Read the article if you can; I’d love to hear what you think.
Think back to your elementary years. Who were you? Someone’s son, daughter, best friend, student, Nancy Drew fan clubber, neighbor, bully (or target), newspaper kid, SuperMan or the 6 million dollar woman?
Then came middle school when you realized some of your carefree ways and assumptions did not endear you to others as they had before. Gone is the SuperMan cape and “bionic running (with sound effects)”. Away go the Nancy Drews. Up comes the search for identity among Aqua Net, Air Jordans, all the feels, and Algebra. It’s a tough age to figure out who we are. Frankly, it never stops after middle school for most of us.
As life gets more complicated, we bump up against more people, greater challenges, more colors in life, thoughts, and heartaches. Every piece of living goes to forging and re-forging our growing selves.
High School? Please.
Every day we are faced with decisions to move forward in the life that lays before us. Into mystery, unknown paths, fears, failures, triumphs, changes of perspective, art, literature, running and racing; Extreme Moose Tracks and more. Each new experience or idea has the potential to grow us – expand us.
We can push back and refuse to see what exists on the other side of the wall of who we are. It’s easier in some ways to recuse ourselves from knowing what’s beyond the boundary. What we will know will most likely conform or eke from what we now know. Hmm.
Not very long ago, I did all sorts of marketing, development, events, community gigs, etc. Magpie and Kenan were still at home or nearby in college, I ran triathlons, and learned to knit. I knew who I was then.
But something bigger called me out of what all had been known. The kids and I conferenced, came to tearful agreements about our futures, set a general date to sell the house, and started forward.
Sometimes the way ahead was wonderful, exciting, and heart-opening.
Sometimes, I would have settled for just humiliating or humbling.
Always the way ahead.
This summer, I sold my race bike and – thanks to friends – hauled out my kayak more. The kids are adults and away cultivating their own lives. I’ve lived a different return-to-Kansas life than I expected: both sweet and humanly/financially vulnerable. It’s safe to say my identity has shifted more than the mighty Mississippi river.
As so many things in recent history, things have not gone as we had hoped. But we are not dead yet. We get to chose our next steps. Will we rage against the world? Will we flaunt our team’s win and demean others?
Or will we lash our rafts tighter together, invite others to join us, and continue the adventure up river? Who we are now is not who we were yesterday. We have a choice, today. Compassion. Violence. Isolationism. Cronyism. Elitism. Delusion. We must pair our choices with derring do and a long view of who we want to become – both personally and as a country.
Who are we now?
Who will we be tomorrow?
What are we going to do about it.
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A side note written to Madi and a few friends:
“We are brave. We are women. We are strategic and resilient. We will not let this happen again and will be inspired by this loss to Love more, stand up, and engage whatever community we find ourselves. We are women. We can do this and be part if turning this dark night around.”