So often we are asked, ” Who are you?” A man might identify himself by his job, and so many of us do identify ourselves by what we do, or our roles in our lives. A woman might find herself identifying as a mother, or friend. Maybe a sister, or daughter. And all these descriptions are fine. But that doesn’t come to quite describe the person, just the role, does it? Sure, I am a sister, daughter, mother, friend, wife, partner, teammate. Those lists of roles in my life could go on forever. The hats that I have worn are endless. Lets add cook, taxi driver, accountant, bookkeeper, counselor, confidant… we could sit here forever. But do these hat, these roles, really describe who we are?
When I converted to Judaism I was given the task of picking a Hebrew name for myself. I didn’t realize this was something I had to do myself. Fore some reason I thought this was something my Rabbi would do for me. After all, when a baby is born into a Jewish household he or she does not get to pick their own name, so it never dawned on me that I would get to pick my own name. And my Rabbi knew me better than anyone at that point, so I thought he would be giving me my Hebrew name. So when I went about picking my Hebrew name, like everything else in my life, I took this very seriously. I also had to pick my daughters’ names at the same time, and since I got to choose my names, I let them chose between three names I picked for them, since this was their journey as well. When it came down to the name I picked for myself, I actually ended up changing it hours before my Mikvah (the official point where I became recognized as Jewish). Naphtala, the female version of Naphtali, which means “to struggle” was the name I chose, because for me, every decision, every step, every moment of my life is a struggle. Some might see this as a negative, but it is out of these struggles that I find meaning. I take nothing for granted. I don’t make decisions lightly. Many people assume that I flit through life, but nothing could be further from the truth. Things don’t come easily for my children and I, but because of this, we cherish it all. Just because I chose to identify myself in my Hebrew name because of the way I experience life, and approach life, through struggle, it in no way means that i see myself as my struggle. It’s more that I see myself in spite of my struggles.
I am not my struggles.
So who am I, if I am not my struggle?
I am misunderstood. I am loving. I am compassionate and kind. I am blunt and sometimes hard to swallow. I can be intense. Sometimes people can’t tell I’m loving and compassionate because it comes off as angry it is so intense and overwhelming. I tend to put myself in other people’s shoes, and take things personally for them, often these are complete strangers I will never meet, or even concepts. But at the same time I don’t pick up my own friend’s offenses when they rant to me, and they get angry that I won’t take their side. I’m a walking contradiction until you get to know me, and then I make sense. I am an odd duck. I don’t want to me anyone but me. I am a devil’s advocate, and can see many points of view, and have lost many friend’s because they thought I couldn’t see their point of view when I was just trying to help them see someone else’s point of view. I don’t take sides, because I chose the side of love. Love for all. We all deserve love. Even those who really screw up. I tend to go to extremes before I find balance, and am often likened to a pendulum. I’m snarky with a dry sarcastic sense of humor, sometimes with a drop of morbid mixed in. I can’t be sorry for being me, but I’m often alone as a result. And I can count on half a hand the number of regrets I have in life, because even the mistakes taught me something valuable I couldn’t have lived without.
Someday I will look back, and I will tell my grandchildren all that I have seen in my lifetime. I will tell them that I remember a time when households didn’t have a computer or a cellphone. I will explain what a corded phone was and how my mom used to yell at me for wrapping myself in it while she talked with my grandmother on it while she made dinner. Or how my dad would get mad at me while he recoiled the coil because it got all kinked from me playing in the corded phone. I can tell them about a time when televisions didn’t have remotes. Or when tapes were replaced by Compact Discs, or VHS was replaced by DVD. Now everything can be put on hour phone. I remember when my mom thought my dad was crazy when he told everyone that someday everyone would carry computers in their pockets that could do everything, even talk to each other across the world in real-time. That was when we got our first computer. Now we don’t even need remotes, we can just talk to our televisions. Its insane. And whats even more insane is the fact that I am only 30 years old.
Even more powerful yet will be the personal experiences that I share with them. The heartbreak of the love I walked away from because I couldn’t watch him destroy himself. It took me 13 years to get over him. And when I think I’m finally over him, I find myself alone on a dark night, still crying over the man who still holds a piece of my heart.
I survived losing a parent before I was grown, and stayed to finish raising the other parent who is still emotional devoid of being the parent I need.
I will tell my grandkids of the first steps I witnessed of their mom. Or how about the heartbreak when I was told my children had autism, and I grieved the childhood they would never have. The joys of parenting I never experienced. But let me tell you, after years of therapy, when I first heard the words, “I love you mom,” only a mom who has been told her kid will never talk knows how powerful those words can hit. There is nothing in the world that can take that away from me.
I will tell them of a marriage that would have been easier to walk away from, in a country that makes divorce easier. But even when I can’t fight any more, even fight for my marriage, I don’t have to leave. I can stay, and regain strength. Or leave for a while, and regain strength. To fight another day. In a generation when divorce is the first answer, or the easy answer, my grandchildren will know that staying in a marriage isn’t something that just past generations did, Its something I will do too. Because sometimes, some things are worth believing in. No matter how hard it seems. I’ve done my share of leaving. Don’t get me wrong. But I always return, it’s just a break. Running away can’t be the first answer. And I hope they listen. I really hope that I continue to have the courage to stay, or the courage to return. Some weeks I don’t know. This week is one of them.
I will survive Chronic Lyme Disease whether the doctors fight me or not. And we will do it my way, along with all my other chronic health issues and auto immune issues. Because I will not let my body win. I will be here to tell all these things to my grandchildren. My struggles will not win. They are apart of me. But they will not defeat me.
So who am I? I am a woman, sojourning down the path of life. Struggling through this journey. Nay, survivng experiences that many would not believe even if I told them. Many that would have killed weaker people. But I tell my story proudly to any who would listen. Sadly, few listen, and even fewer believe.
Now, I ask myself, who are you?
I am the sum of my experiences. Multiplied by the feeling that I bring with me down the path that those experiences lead me. This is who I am. These struggles don’t define me. But they often introduce me to myself.