Why should anyone want to answer this question? I was asked, then immediately told no answer was expected. It’s not a rhetorical question.
When others ask my name, that’s easy enough. What do I do? Also simple. What are you? begins to get more personal. Who are you? Who am I? In terms of what? Our relationship? Am I your friend, enemy, son, father, or husband? I’m the son of, the father of, the grandfather of; but is that who I am?
I’ve always been willing to allow my pastimes to wrap with my identity. For example: I am a runner, artist, writer, dreamer, reader, etc. I’ve been less willing to do that with my profession. I know people who took their livelihood as an identity, only to feel lost when they could no longer perform at their vocation. I no longer run. When I was forced to stop, I was mildly depressed for two weeks. After that, I was fine.
Apparently, some folks think going public as an atheist raised my IQ, my awareness, and my general knowledge—all by some large measure. Other atheists and believers alike seem convinced that I now must provide answers and solutions, understand deep metaphysical mysteries, and know myself better than ever. It changed nothing about me—certainly not who I am.
Admitting atheist does not inflict anyone with knowing the source of the universe–certainly not me. Of this I am certain: if there is a god, I am not him, her, or it. On that, we must all agree. There is scientific evidence to show that my intelligence is now less than it was in the past. Admittedly, I know more trivia and I should have greater wisdom than when I was younger. My answer to life, the universe, and everything is: 42. (You get bonus points if you know why.)
I am two things. I’m the biological result of generations of genetic selection. The other thing I am is what I’ve become (maybe you’re becoming) as a result of the past 70 years of life, social and physical interactions, and learning. I have no idea why I’m male, bald, mildly pudgy (okay, the beer), or have blue or green eyes (depends who you ask). I’m also one of y’all. We’re exactly the same, yet completely different. And we both know it. But that’s not who I am.
As a writer of stories with human characters, I know more about my characters (everything) than I do about any other person. I understand them better than I get myself. I’m their god. I give them life, and sometimes death. I give them pain and pleasure. I know what they’ll do tomorrow. I know what happens when they enter those secret places where they don’t tell others what happened–I know their secret thoughts.
Last night, before going to sleep, my wife asked, “Are you going to walk in the morning?” I said, “I don’t know.” I walk virtually every morning. Today, I did not. My characters are much more dependable.
I am who I always was, and who I will be. I’m the sum of the past. I am part of you, as you are of me. I know who I am at this moment. Right here and now, I am who and what I am. If any deeper, more esoteric, philosophical, theological, sociological, or scientific answer is required, then my answer shall remain forever insufficient.
I don’t know everything about me, but I know enough. We’re gunna have to live with that.
To you, you are who you say you are, what you believe, and what you do. To me, you are who I say you are—it’s my opinion–subject to error and change.
But, is “who am I?” the critical question? I think the most important question is: who are we? How do we define us? We may add layer upon layer of humanity, and layer upon layer of nature, then layer upon layer of the universe. We are still in this together and we need each other.
As me dear departed Irish fadder often ass’d meh, “Whoda hell d’yeh tink ye’re?” Since that usually precipitated me being in a jam…“Exit stage left!”
Who am I? Look both ways.