What is in an identity, and how does what we tell ourselves about how we fit in play into how we approach life? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as in these pandemic times I keep reading and hearing about people who have had to reevaluate and reinvent themselves to make life under a new set of rules work.  

In my case, it wasn’t the pandemic per se that forced my rethinking, but rather a friend who pointed out that a longstanding “truth” I’ve held about myself might need to be reevaluated — the truth that I don’t really know where “home” is, that my whereabouts are temporary. She said to my most recent spiel about not being firmly planted anywhere, that perhaps it’s time to turn that thinking around. She has a point. Ever since I moved to the US more than 25 years ago, I have lived in the same general area — regardless of anything else, you’d think that would be enough to settle the question of being firmly planted somewhere.

Not only have I lived in the same area, but I have also lived almost my entire adult life in the US. By now, I am a citizen who has voted in the last four presidential elections, I have three children who were born here. I have good friends and favorite places. I think I can even say that there are many “American cultural traits” that suit me.

Seeing it spelled out, it seems obvious I have established roots. And yet, ever since I arrived, I have felt like it’s just a matter of time before I move back home. The question of where I should live has, to some extent, always been on my mind. At this point, I don’t even know if I understand why I have this mindset, it’s almost like a knee-jerk reaction. It’s part of my identity.

I think this is how we tend to operate with many things in life. We get used to thinking of ourselves a certain way, it’s how we fit in, and it’s how others relate to us. Knowing how to function when our truths about ourselves crumble — whatever they are — can be disorienting. I know it has given me pause for thought.

I can’t help but think about this in the larger context of what we as a society are going through right now. Not only have we all had to alter how we go about daily life, so many of us have also had to change what we know about ourselves, and how we see ourselves — the breadwinner not being able to provide because of job loss and thus having to rely on others; the caretaker not being able to help elderly parents; the social butterfly being isolated; the traveler stuck at home. Anyone over 65 having to think of themselves as vulnerable, whether they feel that way or not.

Our current times and circumstances are extreme, of course, but the experience of having to rethink how you see yourself in the world is not unique — it happens to most of us at different points in life. So how do you move forward when important truths about yourself, or the society you live in, are upended?

I think there is something to say for Stephen Hawking’s quote about change: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” But it’s also important to note that that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I try to remind myself that it is in the seams of the old and new that we can learn the most about ourselves and where we can make the most progress. Ultimately, it’s how we react to what we learn that determines how we move forward.

By: Felicia Shermis

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