I am a woman.
I am a mom.
I am in a wheelchair. I am a paraplegic.
I am paralyzed.
Your identity, whether given or chosen, is the handshake offered up to everyone else that says, "Hey folks, this is me!" And, you don't just have one-- even if you think you might, you don't.
I know that I have had many identities over my life. They are mostly ones that I was born to-- like a woman-- or grown to-- like a mom. Those are identities created out of comfort. It is our human tendency to group things together in order to understand, as well as to feel a part of something. I totally get it.
But then how can you hold those other identities, the ones that you did not, in fact, choose--even though they so accurately define you?
I have grown to accept an identity of my own, and the variations of monickers over the last 25 years. Yet, it didn't come easy. And it didn't come without some significant internal tug-o-war either.
I was recently reminded that there was a bold and stubborn period of my life where I refused to park in the handicapped spots no matter the trouble. I would wait for hours if needed just to get back into my car after an unaware patron would park a little too close for my wheelchair to fit between their car and my own. Likewise, I have been known on countless occasions to leave a store empty-handed if that one thing I needed was simply out of reach. I would assure myself that I didn't need it that badly. To my chagrin, this stubbornness and unwillingness to ask for help has wearily faded over the years, and the subtle, clearer acceptance remains. Though, for the record, I never asked for this identity.
Without hesitation I accept the fact that I AM paralyzed, I AM a paraplegic, and I AM in a wheelchair. It's not lost on me by any stretch. And, it doesn't hurt. It's the honest, god-willing truth. For I know, without those things, I wouldn't be where I am today.
I would not be WHO I am today.
I don't personally feel the need to focus on one's identities in order to explain my world or an individual's role in it, but I respect why it exists in the first place. I try my damnedest to see each person for their uniqueness, their tumult and their triumphs. I really don't want to put you in a box.
Please check all that apply. It says.
I don't care if you check off one box and not another, or even all the boxes. I don't care if you change your box over the course of your life. I don't even care if those boxes make sense in my world.
I will never quite understand our societal need for box-checking things like race and ethnicity. Where's my box for DISABLED? Isn't that equally as important as the color of one's skin? Nonetheless, I mark an X when it is necessitated in my day-to-day responsibilities as a human being.
My identities don't make me who I am, but they help me circulate in the world. They can help me feel like I belong, like there are these secret clubs that only I know the passcode to. I'm both dying to be in your club and wishing that there was no need, at the same exact time. Sometimes I am not invited at all
just because of my identity.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Do we feel closer or farther away?
Regardless, I continue to take on my own identities and cherish them in a little chest pocket close to my heart. I do so because I know that they help me be me in this world.