This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."
Today is Saturday, February 23, 2013, and my topic for today is re-defining myself to answer the question, "Who am I?"
It occurred to me the other day that, for those of us who have no children, retirement is a version of the "empty nest syndrome" that many parents face. So many of us, myself included, have defined ourselves - and ordered our lives - in terms of our occupation, as if that was our primary identity in life. Well, maybe it WAS my primary identity, but that is no longer the case. Yes, I was a teacher for many years, but that is no longer who I am. I've always known that I was more than just a teacher, but for many years I was content to let my occupational identity define me. Not only did it define my self-image; it also gave my life structure. It set priorities and values on how I spent my time.
The other day I had an interesting dream. In the dream, I was helping a lady organize a classroom. The room in the dream did not look like any of the classrooms I have taught in over the years; nevertheless, I was aware that this room had been mine, that I was moving out and she was moving in. I had taken out all my personal stuff, and we were putting books that belonged to the school on shelves, after having wiped the dust off the shelves. I began to put the books back in the same place as I had them when it was my classroom, but the lady told me to put the on a different shelf. I did this, realizing inwardly how calm and detached I was feeling about the whole process. When I awoke from the dream, it occurred to me that perhaps the dream was an indication that I had finally begun to let go of my teacher identity.
By rights, we should all get into the habit of re-inventing ourselves every so often, since we are all constantly changing. Perhaps if we did this exercise more often, it would not be so abrupt, so painful, so frightening.
I'd like to be able to say with conviction that I'm a writer, but that is still hard to do. It's as if I haven't really earned that identity yet. On the other hand, even if I ever do earn it, I am now more aware than ever that it's still not the real me.
My spiritual training says that I am Soul, a spark of God. I have lived many lifetimes on this physical planet we call Earth, and I have been everything under the sun. I've been both male and female, all different races. I've been incredibly rich and agonizingly poor, as well as everything in between. I've lived ascetic lives and profligate lives. I've lived opulently as well as simply. I've had a lot of boring lives and a few really adventurous ones. The goal has always been the same: to learn how to love self, others, and God. To learn how to give and receive Divine Love, the kind of love that the Greeks termed "agape," as opposed to "eros."
In this lifetime, I have had a number of identities. As a child, I always felt different, because I was blind in one eye. I also knew I was smarter than a lot of other kids, and I was aware that this was not always a good thing, in the social sense. For a while there, in second and third grade, I was a compulsive liar, telling bigger and bigger "whoppers," and marveling at how many of my stories my friends actually believed were true. As a teen, I remember railing against God for giving me a dumpy body and stupid hair. I knew my parents were watching to see whether I got a date, and that they were secretly disappointed when I didn't. I played the flute pretty well, in high school, and I considered myself a musician. That identity stayed with me later in life as I took vocal lessons in my 30s and sang in several amateur and semi-professional choirs.
In my early 20s I married a Japanese man and moved to Japan to live, remaining there even after our divorce. I considered myself a wife, and an "international" person. By this time, I had slimmed down and I enjoyed dressing up and being a fashion plate. My self-image took a tumble when I divorced, and I felt unlovable again. I kept thinking that I would surely soon find someone else to be with, but it's been 30 years, now, since the divorce, and there's been no one. Am I still unlovable? Probably not, but it's hard, sometimes, not to get to thinking that there must be something wrong with me. Perhaps that's only an excuse to build walls around myself, so that I can never be hurt again.
At the end of my career as a teacher, I felt almost invincible. I felt that I could teach anybody just about anything, using any materials - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I had the respect of my colleagues and I knew that a lot of my students had enjoyed my classes over the years.
I remember watching a TV show many years ago. I believe it was a a segment form the Loretta Young Show. The story was about a young woman who keeps getting asked, "Who are you?" At first, she answers the question using her relationships: daughter of so-and-so, wife of so-and-so. Later, she uses her own name, then her professional identity. At the end of the movie, she answers the question starting with the words, "I am a child of God." I guess there's a reason why this memory has stayed with me.
Perhaps that's the final answer. I am Soul, a child of God. It doesn't really matter what roles I played thirty years ago or what I was last week. It doesn't really matter what I will be a year from today. It only matters what I am right now.
I am a child of God. Yeah, I like that. :-)