A woman in a coma feels her spirit gently slipping away from her body. She rises to what she knows is heaven and the presence of God. As she arrives a Voice asks her a single question: “Who are you?” She answers, “I am the wife of the mayor.” The Voice answers: “I did not ask your marital status. Who are you?”
She tries again: “I am the mother of four children.” And again came the Voice: “I did not ask you whose mother you are. Who are you?” She takes another stab: “I am a school teacher.” The Voice answers: “I did not ask your occupation. Who are you?” She stammers, “I am a Christian!” only to be answered, “I did not ask your religion. Who are you?”
And so it went. God would ask, “Who are you?” and she would reply with a role she had played in her lifetime, but she had no honest answer to the question; because she didn’t know the answer. Graciously, God returned her spirit to her body, and with the additional years she was given, she set out to find a satisfactory answer to God’s question.
I came across the above story years ago in the writings of the late Anthony de Mello. Father Tony, born in what is now Mumbai, was an eclectic combination of East and West; Jesuit priest and Hindi scholar; spiritual director and therapist; resolute Christian and spiritual explorer.
At his best, he was a collector and teller of stories gathered from all the traditions he encountered, and few of his stories are more impactful than this one, one asking the essential question of conversion, awakening, or enlightenment (I don’t think de Mello would quibble over the exactness of our words): “Who are you?”
Do you know the answer to that question for yourself? Don’t be alarmed if you have no ready response. Few of us do, but don’t respond as the lady in Father Tony’s story, answering with the various and sundry roles you have played. Those aren’t the real you.
That is to say, you are not the things you do. You are not the assignments that fate has given you to fulfill. You are not your relationships. You are not a career. There is a real soul beneath all of that, and that soul – buried beneath the fussiness, under the encrusted defense mechanisms, behind that enslaved, masked, and dancing clown performing for others – is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” That soul is the answer to the question. That soul is the real you.
Given this, a better question might now be: “Do you know the real you, that soul underneath the costumes and uniforms you have worn?” You might enjoy getting to know that person, because I guarantee you this: The real you is far more extraordinary than the counterfeit persona you have spent years hiding behind. Because the real you is created by God, and consequently, far superior to anything spun from your own imagination.