I lay in bed this morning looking back over old photos, trying to pinpoint the last time I really felt like me.
I don’t know what I thought I’d find there or what signs I was looking out for. A more genuine smile? “Happier-looking” eyes? If I saw either of those things I was probably imagining it. The fact is I’ve always smiled for photos. And anyway, who’s to say that happier times were times when I was more “me” anyway? Isn’t sadness as much a part of me as any other feeling?
To be honest, I don’t really believe that “me-ness” is necessarily tied to periods of intense emotion. Me-ness is more slippery than that. Less black and white. It involves understanding yourself on a really fundamental level and that, let me tell you, is bloody hard to do! We make up lies about ourselves and the kind of person we are because we don’t want to acknowledge our faults (or at the very least we want to believe that the faults we do have are much less egregious than Susan-from-down-the-road’s). But our faults are part of the great me-ness puzzle just as much as our interests, our fears, and our hairstyle are. We’re like giant fleshy Rubick’s Cubes in that way.
What I’m trying to say is, confronting yourself can be scary and being who you really are is terrifying. What if who you are gets rejected by the world? Even worse, what if you finally understand who you are and then you lose it?
It was Tom Cox that started me on this train of thought. In his book, 21st-Century Yokel (a lovely book of essays that’s part memoir, part nature writing, and part odd stream-of-consciousness, the reading of which feels like you’re sitting by the fire on a windy autumn evening with a hot cup of tea), he wrote:
All people have years when they are more them than they are in other years, and 1982, 1983, and 1984 were all years when I was very me.
Reading this short passage took my breath away. I’ve been thinking a lot about identity this past year and how I’ve been feeling disconnected with a lot of the things that I once felt defined me.
Looking back over pictures this morning with that quote in mind, it was tempting to say that 2014 was the last year I felt “very me” (in a way that’s hard to describe to anyone else other than to say that in 2014 I wore my me-ness like a suit of armour), but to say that is a disservice to 2019-me. 2019-me has been through a lot. I’m older (though probably not much wiser). I’m softer in some ways and harder in others. I stand up for myself more than I did in 2014, but I also value empathy and compassion more than ever before. I like some of the same things as 2014-me did, but not all of them. In many ways, I’m not that old me anymore. I’m different. And I don’t know if I can ever be that person again.
As we move through life, a lot of us will lose our me-ness as and many of us feel like we’ll never find it again. But maybe we need to stop looking at me-ness as something that’s built once and sustained over a lifetime. Maybe me-ness is something that can be rebuilt over and over and over again.