King Lear retired from his job and came undone. “Who is it,” he cried in his anguish, “can tell me who I am?”
Good question and one we all come to eventually. The child starts school, the kid leaves for college, our lifelong love is gone, our home is lost, our career is over, the ground we stood on so solidly gives way like quicksand and we are left like Lear asking who am I?
Or it could just be a birthday with a number that boggles the mind. Having survived some of the former, I was ambushed by the latter a year ago. As I passed the hall mirror, it caught me unaware. Whoa! Is that me? Not possible. I felt as if the last time I looked, I was about 35 years old,clear skinned, unlined, bright eyed. Who was this looking back at me? This was a woman with a high number of birthdays.
Ordinarily, I don’t put much stock in mirrors, using them mainly for check for tidiness and signs of dishevelment. A few years ago I fell out with them to the extent that I hung scarves over the few I had. There was such a disconnect between how I felt I looked and what they reported that I preferred to rely on my inner vision.
Now this hall mirror, had shaken my idea of what I was. Then photographs sitting here and there began to catch my eye: a kodachrome summer girl of eighteen, a black and white 22 year old in a scholar’s robe, a New Year’s mother with children, a fujicolored grandmother. I didn’t feel as if I were the woman in the mirror, but I was clearly none of these people either. Who was I then?
In my pursuit of an answer, I avoided the mirror, put away the pictures and bought a new pair of jeans, before finally taking up a pen to explore the question. What I wrote turned itself into a poem, which ended with this stanza:
There is no pleasing mirror now
except this looking glass of words.
Here I may catch a fleeting glimpse
of clear bright core
of inner being.
Ah, so that’s why my perception of myself has not diminished with age. What I am seeing is the undying beauty of the real Self.
The answer to the question “who am I” is never a simple one: mother, wife, husband, father, teacher, tinker, tailor, spy, not even philanthropist or humanitarian. A human being is not one-dimensional. We are not just whatever role we are currently playing or find ourselves trapped in at the moment. Lear discovered that when he gave away his kingdom and lost his status. We are creations in progress, an epic novel we are still in the process of writing. Who can say what the theme of that novel is in a few words?
One of the ways to explore this complex question is to write, the more often the better. By writing we discover not only what we know but what we think and ultimately, what we are. Any creative process will give us insight, but if your inner artist, performer or composer isn’t ready to debut, write a journal as a beginning.