Last week I stepped backward in time into a house I hadn’t entered in two years and yet lived in for a long time. It seemed home to a self that I had long abandoned; that I tried to shed through experience and travel, through constant movement.
I ransacked the house, pulling up every small token of my old identity: pictures shoved into white drawers, worn notebooks that had my penciled feelings, small trinkets that once held meaning and letters from people who once loved me.
There I was, a map of life pointing to my identity that I wasn’t; it was me and yet it wasn’t. I was a stranger to myself, and yet looking backward into the telescope of my past I saw shifting slivers of what’s part of my now.
It made me think of identity and self because I didn’t identify with the self that I was, and then I was sitting in an environment that identified me that way; that told others the stories of me over and over again.
“Remember the time Sam had that head on collision? Or how about the boy who brought a flower to the door and Sam refused to answer him? Or remember when you went to Spain? Or how Mike had to teach you how to drive? Or if I don’t check the room you’ll always forget something.”
Yes, that’s me now. I’m not the best driver, I lose things, and occasionally there are boys who send flowers that I don’t want, but none of this, none of these memories feel present to me; feel like they inform my current reality that I’ve created for myself.
It made me wonder how my former environment shaped the self that I was and how that informs my present.
I believe we’re all made up of each other’s perceptions, but are we folded in on ourselves like those old wooden Russian dolls; seven and eight, layered on top of the other, or are we a patchwork quilt; where at certain times some squares shine more brightly then others depending upon what light is shone upon it.
Are we being constantly made new by new perceptions or do we make ourselves new? Are we ever really new, or just our kaleidoscope self in a different arrangement?
When I look at my second grade report card and see the teacher’s writing, “Sam has the tendency to jump into projects without always thinking them through and then sometimes has to start over. It would be better for her to take a few minutes before she starts to plan; otherwise she’s a wonderful student,” and it is in this comment that I see the pattern of my whole life.
Is this the soul then; the essence of self that always brings you back to YOU; the you that you are no matter where you go, or how you’re perceived by others and self because how can one really see what one is.
That’s why we need each other; to let us know who we are because we are always trying to find out; that is why we tell stories, so that we can reach back and forth into life as if we have some real destination other than death.
I don’t always like the way I’m perceived then and now; I don’t like revisiting a being that I was, and reverting back into the same thinking and patterns in that same environment when I’ve come so far; when I must believe I have evolved on some level.
Then I tell myself, “neither perception is true; both good and bad, just a flash of what is in that moment that I’m standing in,” and yet in that moment it is real.
There I am nine years old smiling wearing a necklace made of lipsmackers; there I am again at eight years old scribbling in my notebook, asking the teacher if I can take home the class hamster; suddenly years pass and I’m standing with my second kiss on the way to homecoming; what’s left is a picture of myself staring into our hallway mirror.
The face toward the reflection; the unanswered question, and if we have a soul; then the soul is made up of those things that follow us around forever; the way that we love, the risks we’re willing to take, how we cry, and how we be.