Who am I?
This isn’t a question I’ve pondered often. I’m introspective, so sure, to some degree it’s crossed my mind. But these existential questions of self, of identity, are more like distant cousins than bedfellows.
I think I’m ‘unique,’ but I think everyone else feels that way about themselves too, and thus, who I am is as important as it is inconsequential. I matter to a small world of people. My legacy, should it be called that on the day I die, will largely be assigned to those same people. And in time, I’ll be what all who have come before me are; an idea, a fragment of memory and eventually, a forgotten one.
That’s not a morbid assessment, just a pragmatic one. It’s a suit I choose to wear when confronting the world because by and large, simple thoughts tend toward truthful ones. At least in my experience.
Who am I? In truth, it won’t matter in the echoes of eternity.
Ahh, but if I never see an eternity. That’s the rub. Increasingly, when I have questions about God, I find in myself a greater curiosity about what is. About what I can do to affect the world around me, or those around me, if there’s nothing else that comes after death. Isn’t it a useless exercise to consider how my life or my deeds might ring after I’m dead if they hardly create a ding while I’m alive?
And that’s the thing. I’m only sitting here writing about these things, and these curiosities about my role in the world, because of something that caused me to look at my own identity anew. Not God, not an intervention of the third realm.
But a DNA test.
One day, you’re the sibling with blue eyes with a hodge-podge of German, Italian, Irish, Swedish and Dutch ancestry. The next, you’re alarmingly Jewish with a blatantly ironic blend of German. A dash of English for good measure, perhaps to add some gravitas to an image of self that’s now immediately in conflict, like a disease destined to fight its way through you from the inside out.
Months later, the greatest revelation isn’t a computerized evaluation of your alleged ancestral background — I reasoned that there could be any number of explanations for it — but instead, a confession from my parents. That this Jewish anomaly was in fact part of a much greater story of origins. That I was not the biological son of my father, but instead, of a sperm donor. A donor being revealed as expertly Jewish.
You were never Italian. Never Irish or Swedish, or Dutch.
You were Jewish and German with scant leftovers.
A product of the modern world’s most painful irony, a martyr and his conqueror. An oblivious, prematurely balding shell with blue eyes, lacking a hint of context for an inheritance he’d never known and couldn’t prepare for.
To boot, you’re not the only one. Time’s grace and penchant for smoothing rough edges while ushering in new cruelties becomes your rite of passage now. A brother. A sister. A baptism by fire into a vault of secrets shared by would-be strangers. All brought here by vials of sperm secured through a sure-handed grip and some 80s porno magazines. Families wait on the other side of the wall with fears and hopes, all brought to an altar with a want that can be cured only by this sure-handed grip on the other side of the wall.
Then, 30 some-odd years later, here you are. All of you. You are a family in the least conventional way, and yet, it’s the lack of convention that assures your tightly chained sense of self to now be irrevocably tied to the next link. Your brother. Your sister. Their wide-eyed parents.
And a re-introduction to that question you picked off the shelf just long enough to dust it and put it back.
Who am I?
Before today, I was just…me. Fortunately, that had been enough to eat and put a roof over my head. To wake up and find a modicum of peace with the mirror’s reflection. Smart enough. Gentle. A sometimes decent jump shooter. And perhaps self-aware enough to know I matter, but in the long view, not that much.
Little more is required to make your way through the world.
But today you’re something else. You’re a Jew, with blood from Israel that spilled without mercy at the evil of your other hand. You’ve moved freely through this world as a quilt of European spare parts, unknowingly doing so in a disguise.
Now, wondering openly what oppressions or suffering you successfully avoided due to your own ignorance, or restricted access to truth. And learning early on that those who came before you, who birthed the blood that fills your veins, were slaughtered in virtual totality just a generation ago. No, you’re not a distant, disconnected cord.
You’re the biological legacy of massacred Semites.
An identity in one’s self, it seems, is a convenience of a disambiguated origin. Your origin, or at least the one you believed was yours. When there is no home but the one you were raised in, or a land to go back to to uncover roots, then you are who you’ve elected to be.
But I am only that to the extent I’m willing to feed my indulgence for ignorance. I have reentered the world with the burden of knowing I am, and always was, susceptible to the same ostracism, or atrocities, that befell those who created me. That I could carry on as I was, but only if I hadn’t discovered I never was.
I start my mornings the same way. I start from rest, rubbing sleep from my eyes. Then I walk to the bathroom to flip the switch that illuminates my morning. And in the mirror is a face I have always seen, but not known.
But I’m not changed. I didn’t discover my identity — I just unearthed it.
And yet, I’ve wrestled with that identity. The blue eyes I’ve looked through to see the world — they belong to a man I don’t know. The atypical slant of my jawline? His. And in the faces of two new siblings, I see my own face.
The reflections of a stranger.