She knew me well enough to write my obituary. That’s why her question was so strange:
“Who are you, really?” she asked over the rim of her coffee cup.
I was in my 40s, and nobody had ever asked me that before. She was my mentor in writing for money, a skilled interviewer. She let her question hang in my silence.
My mind went to who I am to my children, my parents, my wife, my clients and finally said, “I’m a lot of people.”
We all feel like that sometime, don’t we – like we’re a collection of roles? Our job is our identity, or we’re like T.S. Eliot’s “preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet.” Hypocrisy sometimes, but more like mush. We feel like down deep, behind the roles, nobody’s home. It’s not a happy feeling.
But my mentor was also wrong. She was thinking like Popeye: “I yam what I yam.” We’re not snowballs rolling down a mountain, unable to change direction, ending up like we started, just more bloated.
I believe we all start out with the same core spirit, somehow made in the “image of God.” We’re in a body of flesh, so that spirit is overlaid with genetics. Then we’re influenced further by life experiences, for good or bad or nothing. The sum total is “who I am” – right now.
The important thing we should keep in mind, I believe, is that we’re not stuck as one person, unchangeable, forever. The imprints of genetics and experiences aren’t decisive in who we are tomorrow.
Our church in Madison County maintains a “prison group”: inmates from Buncombe Correctional who are integrated into the life of the church. We see change – in the inmates and in us. They experience belonging and love, and to us they contribute deep spiritual insights from their lives. We’re agents of change, but we’re learning that our ability to effect change in others is really very limited. In the end, they have to make the change decision themselves.
Actually that’s how it is for all of us. We choose daily. We can embrace the image of God within us, or not.
In the movie, “Treasure of Sierra Madre,” Curtin asks Dobbs: “What do you think about gold changing a man’s soul so that he ain’t the same kind of a guy?” Dobbs (Bogart): “I guess it depends on the man.”
This year we can start to be people who stand strong. We don’t have to be mush. We don’t have to be stuck in our past. We can change. We can be agents of positive change in others, too. Our spirits, after all, were created in the image of God.