I sit down during the summer of my life and the fall of the year to ask, “Who am I?”
We all need to consider the big questions from time to time. The who, the why, the how. We need to know who we are, what the world is, who others are. We need to know about the big guy upstairs and little guys surrounding us. Essentially, who we are, who I am, is somewhat dependent on those answers.
I am made of elements, atoms, cells, those science things. I will die and someday return those elements to the earth as I decompose. The earth will swallow me whole, and a part of me may appear in a rose, a dandelion, be eaten by a raven, a cow, and maybe pop up in a happy meal. That’s kinda weird, but kinda true. One way or another, we will return to the earth. We are part of something bigger.
But who am I? What makes me unique beyond those points?
I fear at 35 that I sometimes forget the face of my younger selves. Who was I when I was 4? 7? 17? 21? Who I am is who I was . . . time is a lazy river that never ends, and I am the part of that lazy river from when I was born up until now.
I try to remember what the child Joe felt. I want to look him in the eyes and ask him questions about the world. I wonder how he’d answer. I want to know what the puberty Joe felt. I want to remember his hormones, his humors, his fears.
Sometimes I feel that I am on top of the world; sometimes I feel that the world is on top of me. Sometimes I yell with enthusiasm; sometimes I can barely breathe at all. But I don’t think this is unusual. It just . . . is. There are days where I can accomplish anything. There are days where the actions of the world sadden me to a point where I don’t want to get out of bed. Thank God for coffee.
I am inspired and passionate.
I am my family. I have the fire of my grandmother, the fire that caused her to hit my four year old head with a telephone receiver because I first did that to her. I have the laziness of a hard-working grandfather (RIP) . He worked his bones dry and desired nothing but comfort and relaxation in the winter of his life. I am my father (RIP)—his jumbled brain and maniac thoughts. I am my mother—empathetic and sensitive but coated with a turtle shell that grows harder to defend against life’s blows. I always want to feel, always want that passion, and the few times I’ve lost it, the few times it began to slip away, I grew cold and frightened. My passion and fire are everything.
I am the kindergartner who threw racecars into other kids’ building blocks to destroy their castles.
I am the 7th grader who almost failed science because I fell in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, and she had to sit right next to me.
I am the 8th grader whose best friend did the worst thing a friend could do another.
I am the 9th grader who pretended to be sick so that I could stay up late and finish a horror novel.
I am the 10th grader who encountered great evil and was surrounded by a gang of kids violently swinging baseball bats. I am he who said I would learn how to not be afraid.
I am the 11th grader who had his self-esteem smashed by two teachers, teachers he respected, teachers who hated the youth they had lost. I am he who vowed never to let young people encounter the wrath of such demons, at least not in my classroom.
I am the 12th grader who rarely showed up for school because I lost enthusiasm for learning.
I am the college student who vowed his life would mean something. I am he who decided to devote my energy to others, who found passion, meaning and inspiration all around him: some wonderful professors, amazing friends, and incredible experiences.
I have known true love. I have experienced the loss of people close to me. I have had a gun pointed at me head and thought I would surely die.
Now, thirty-five years later I am just getting used to being called “Professor.” It feels good. No, it feels great. But we all wear many masks; we all have many faces. These are but a few.
I am a little of all that surrounds me. I am you, and you are me too.