Identity Theft

There’s been alot written about identity theft–when someone assumes another’s identity for the purpose of committing fraud. But what happens when we lose our identity, not because someone else has taken it away, but because it no longer fits? Who are you and who are you not?

There are many reasons why an identity may no longer fit. What’s clear to me is what it feels like.

I felt this while I was on vacation last week. My family and I were on a tour of an Anasazi ruin (Chimney Rock, CO). Chimney Rock is steeped in ancient astronomy practices—tracking the lunar cycles, the winter and summer solstice—using physical landmarks. At one point, the tour guide asked my son if he knew the definition of an equilateral triangle. When he answered “a triangle with three equal sides,” the tour guide replied, “Your dad must be an engineer.” To which my husband replied, “His mother is an engineer.” That gave me food for thought, as I identified myself as an engineer for so long and now I’m not an engineer (at least I don’t get paid for engineering work even though I might still use some of the skills. ) It was disconcerting to know that I had left my old identity behind and am still, after five years, in transition.

It’s a big step when my identity becomes more than what I do for a living or who I am in relation to others. And even then, my identity is transforming, although less prone to the the earthquake of layoffs and divorces.

It struck me that I never stop shaping my identity. It’s just that at different points of life, my identity is more rooted in one image over another (e.g., entrepreneur, mother, newlywed, engineer). Over time, like a small boat drifting out to sea, I don’t realize that I have left the shoreline until I am surrounded by endless water and sky. During these times in the open ocean, I struggle to look for familiar land, but there is none. In fact, there is nothing but the stars to guide me to my next destination. I can either celebrate the freedom that comes with so much space, or be terrified by it and hope that I don’t drown.

This makes me think of my four-year old niece. My brother reported that on a recent vacation, they were enjoying swimming in a small Midwestern lake. My niece, life-preserver securely fastened, a summer of swimming lessons under her belt, had no fear of being surrounded by deep water in every direction. She reveled in the spaciousness, rather than worried about the risks. She had decided to celebrate her freedom.

There’s lots more to write about making the journey to a new identity. I’ll leave that for another posting. What I want to make note of is this:

Once I have reached my destination, in the deep waters of my unconscious, there is a false sense that I will never leave land again. But that’s not true. What is true is that I will not drown when I lose sight of land and that I will find land again.

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