Who are you? Or for that amtter, who am I? No, no . . . your name is not WHO YOU ARE. Your name is simply a label by which that person recognizes the recognition of other persons. Your name may not tell you anything about the answer to the question. Maybe it does, or maybe you aren’t sure what it says. All are ok. We all want to feel good about the answer to that question, and yet…the harder you think about it, the more difficult it can be to answer.
I’ll admit that I find myself in an unusual place in my life. I know I have a strong mind and body and I want to be … of use? A part of … something? I keep finding wholes in this sense. And it can suck. Especially when you aren’t sure where you are in the economy or society anymore (thanks, plague!). But I have also learned that that’s ok. Generally, we only run into this kind of issue it seems when something disrupts life enough to encourage us to look and we end up with enough time that we really get into the intellectual weeds. It feels disorienting to realize there is no solid ground beneath our sense of self that the ground literally below our bodies. In some ways the answer is clearest when we may otherwise feel most lost.
We are the interplay between our bodies and our environments stting atop this most amazing aparatus that is the rest of our minds and bodies. They are us, not really separate, but “I” within is the post which seems most plausibly apart. I’ve come to think that’s what it does: the ego is that which takes the myriad mingling minutia of existence at the human scale and does something few, if any, other certures do and tries to separate, and sort, and figure out that which is.
However, this is in some ways very illusory to experience. I am an intellectual – maybe neurotic – person myself. It is as much a hindrance as help sometimes. At this point in my life – when I am realizing that the career I thought I wanted may not really be right for me at all – I find all of this is as familiar as it is scary. I’ve been deconstructing my world and things in it since near the beginning. So if this finally gets me to see how what I have done has made a trap for my self, I can just as naturally go about unmaking it. I am not my choices so much as the actions those choices lead to. Choice may very well be part of that illusion of self. Actions, however, are only ever done once and those may add to a role I play in events bigger than myself. How can they not?
As the Bard said, “all the world’s a stage, and the men and women mere players” which is to say that we all are doing things – playing roles, if you will – all while none of us can really be sure we know at all what we are doing. If we are strict about it, we can be certain that we don’t really. At best we may do a role we have so prepared for that we may do so for a brief time with a grace worthy of applause and a bow at the end. That’s it. That’s all. Ourt greatest claim to identity is not “what” we think we are. It is what we do.
So you may be a drunk. Yet, tomorrow you may a drunk fighting for that first day of sobriety. Or you may be a student who even now is becoming a teacher amidst your fellow students. Likewise, the accountant may be a singer, or a poet a theoretical physicist. Who knows what the limits of the possibilities really are? Well, you do so long as you are present and honest. The real limits have nothing to do with this moment, but our will to commit to an action which is also a long series of actions building on one another. And then somewhere out of that you find a life and maybe even a legacy. No one alive has seen Beethoven, but most of us have heard him because he wrote some of the most enduring music in all humanity.
One final note: there is something about a role which satisfies in a way things never can.