A woman coming to the end of her life began to feel her spirit slipping gently away from her body. She was transported to what she knew was heaven, and there found herself in the presence of what she just as profoundly knew to be God.
“Who are you?” God asked the new arrival. She answered, “I am the wife of the mayor.” God responded, “Child, I did not ask to whom you are married. Who are you?” The woman gave it another shot: “I am the mother of four children,” she stated. “I did not ask whose mother you are,” God responded tenderly. The question was put to her again: “Who are you?”
She paused for a moment, genuinely perplexed, and tried again: “I am a school teacher.” But that answer was wrong as well, as God was not interested in what she did for a job. “I am a Christian,” she finally blurted out, thinking she had the answer God was seeking. “No, no, my child,” God said, “I did not ask about your religion.”
On and on this went. God would ask the woman who she was, and each time she would answer by citing a role she played, an allegiance she held, or a relationship that was significant to her. But honestly, she didn’t know who she really was. So, in his grace, God returned her to her body that she might spend the rest of her days seeking a proper answer to this crucial question.
Indeed, how would you answer that question? Who are you, exactly? Do you define yourself as an American? That’s your nationality, something to be patriotic about, but I hope that’s not your identity, for the cosmos is larger than America. Do you define yourself by your occupation? If so, what will happen to you if you are laid off or if you lose the physical or mental abilities to do that work (You will lose these abilities, by the way)?
Are you so strongly attached to your party, denomination, affiliation, or religion that you cannot imagine your life without that allegiance? If so, you will spend your life trying to prove you are right and everyone else is wrong. You will end up hating everyone who is not on your team. It will give something to do, I guess, but there’s not much living in that method as far as I can see.
And even the ones you love, whom your soul is irrevocably bound to, the ones for whom you would give your life: Those persons remain unique, quirky, beautiful individuals – naked before God – just as you are.
The truth is, most of us won’t get a second chance to figure out who we are. So, it is incumbent upon each of us to more or less live out the immortal words of Bob Dylan: “All I can do is be me, whoever that is.” Unselfishly discovering this “whoever” within seems to be the very point of life itself.