I’ve never known how to define myself. Or known if such an endeavour is even worth pursuing. I haven’t been defined by a career the way a doctor or a teacher might be. I’ve always had jobs and while I always took them seriously and treated the work with respect, nothing I ever did felt like it was who I was.
I’m not a father. That’s not something that I identify with in any way. I’m not even a son anymore. I’m still a husband but my wife and I aren’t the type to somehow forge our identities through the eyes of the other.
I play music, or I used to anyhow, but I don’t really consider myself to be a musician. After three albums, I haven’t changed my mind. I’m a friend and a cousin and a nephew but the truth is, I don’t see my friends very often beyond cyberspace and while these friendships and family connections mean the world to me, they are not present in my daily routine.
So what am I?
Many years ago, an old friend of mine was in a relationship with a much older and more mature woman. He was spinning his wheels, finding his way and from month to month he would change directions and embrace some other pursuit. Yet he would tell his girlfriend things like, “I may be a waiter but I’m really a writer. I may drink too much but it’s because I’m a tortured soul who is really a poet”. He wrote neither poetry nor prose and she called him on it. She said that ultimately, you are what you do. Not what you do to make a living but what you do. Your deeds. The cumulative body of your actions.
That has stayed with me now for over twenty-five years.
I played basketball today for the first time since the eighties. I was obsessed with basketball in high school. To make our Junior Basketball team was a real accomplishment. About a hundred boys tried out and I think nineteen made it that first year I did. And I ranked no higher than seventeenth in the power rankings and I know I only made the team because I broke my right arm that summer and learned to do left-handed lay-ups better than everyone else.
So today I fished out my old basketball from the garage, inflated it to the pressure I thought was right and headed to the hoop in the church parking lot at the end of my street. (Without an iota of exaggeration, I made sure I brought my wallet for ID purposes in case I had a heart attack).
I started off with some close in shots. Bunnies, we used to call them. I moved around the court a bit, remembering where I used to regularly shoot from. From the corner of the top of the key that I had to paint in my imagination. From the corner baseline where I often let it go. I ran a few lay-ups, some hook shots. A couple of three pointers, by my estimation.
It wasn’t good.
I threw up more air balls in half an hour than I did in all of high school. I just didn’t have my old legs and I was carrying an extra thirty pounds. But I remembered. My brain remembered what I was supposed to do even though I couldn’t do it as well anymore. I re-connected with an old part of myself that had laid dormant for so, so long.
I finished up shooting free throws. My old coach wouldn’t let us end practice until we hit eight out of ten foul shots. Muscle memory and concentration when we were tired, replicating the end of a game.
I tried and I tried but the best I could do was seven. But when I finished with three in a row, all swishes, I’d had enough and went home. And on my way home, I figured out what I am. It came to me very clearly.
I’m a student, I’m a hockey player, I’m a basketball player, I’m a musician and a card player. I’m a husband and a brother and a nephew and a cousin and a friend and I am still a son. I’m a writer and a cook and a baseball fan. I’m everything that I have ever done, good and bad, and I will be everything that I ever do. No need to name it. I am what all the little pieces of me say I am. As simple and as complicated as you want to make it. But if forced to name it, today I was a seventy percent free throw shooter. With a good left hand and a sore back. And tomorrow is another day.