In all lives, there come times when one’s identity is wrenched away through the deaths of loved ones, lost jobs, significant relocations, rejection by favored communities, altered relationships and changes in physical health/status. In those times, especially when one or more of those events happen together, we can feel as if suddenly we know not who we are. Incapable of saying clearly, “I do this…” or “I am somebody’s _______,” or “I belong here,” we are wordless when people pose questions that demand such answers. And so, without easy responses, we lose identity, or at least the identity we once claimed. Some may go even further than that, saying that once we have nothing to do or any relationship to name, we become nobody, nobody of any importance at least.
Therefore, a question still haunts me. Who am I really? What is it of worth that I actually do? Not too long ago, during a 2 a.m. menopausal power surge that just wouldn’t stop, those questions loomed so largely in my mind that despair began seeping in to the point where finally my heart cried out, “Why? Why must I go on for so long with no clear direction, no clear identity?” Only silence in my midst, I did what I most often do: I journaled.
As I wrote out my pain and frustration, I couldn’t help but think of something I read earlier. In his book A Dwelling Place for Wisdom, Raimon Panikkar writes that when we seek to prepare a place for wisdom, we must “receive the stranger, the unknown, that which plainly seems threatening; preparing means allowing the received to bud, blossom, develop, and be born” (p. 24.) He adds that “it has to be a theandric activity. It is a wrestling with the guest, with what could be transformed into wisdom, with God, with the angel, with the You.” In reflecting upon this status of mine, of being so far from the defining parts of my life and not yet immersed enough in Manhattan to claim anything here as my identity, I saw that this very condition of nothingness could be named a guest – unknown, strange, even unwanted – but still a guest, maybe even an angel if I allow it to fully enter my life. And once it enters, I realized, I am not called to passively accept it; rather, I am to wrestle with it, so that wisdom may emerge. With this awareness, I decided that even though I seemed to have had enough of doing nothing and being no-one, I would not succumb to the temptation of either getting a full-time job or volunteering away all my free time. Instead, I will do as I am apparently being called to do: to wrestle with the nothingness that is currently mine.
And so, in wrestling with nothingness, I will hope that somehow in this endeavor, maybe, some wisdom might emerge. To do that, though, I will need to face key pieces which defined so many aspects of my identity. Catholicism, feminism, education, sexuality, women’s ordination, ….. these are only a few things which have touched me in significant ways, and so, I suspect, will need to be confronted. At this time, I lack a clear plan…. In fact, I even wonder why I dare to share this struggle in this blog. After all, this struggle is certainly a personal one. And there it is: in being a personal struggle, it is actually one we must all face at one time or another, this time being mine. With that in mind, I will begin.