Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.


“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  We’re asked this question how many times when we are kids?  And what does the question imply?  That we are going to arrive at this destination–this what–and that we’ll know what that what will be when we’re young and that we’ll know when we get there.  

When I was a tour guide at my undergraduate college, I had to reassure countless parents who were terrified their children were going to flunk life because their child didn’t have a major picked yet.  Most students at a small, liberal arts college either come in with no major or end up switching by the time they graduate.  I didn’t exactly switch majors, just added another concentration and never worked in my major.  And now, I’m getting my PhD in something completely unrelated.  And maybe, twenty years from now, I’ll be doing something different.

We are not static.  This was a difficult lesson for me to learn.  Vegetation and animals that are static do not adapt to their environments and become extinct.  Humans who don’t adapt, who don’t change, become stagnant, stiff, and stuck.  

So I thought I’d know when I was recovered.  And I did.  And then I thought, “Well, that’s done,” and I was wrong, as I’ve mentioned previously.  There is always room for personal growth.  This whole experience with my heart has also taught me some important lessons about identity, because I’m having to give up something I’ve done for twenty years.  I’ve been A Runner (capitalization intended) for twenty years.  How many pairs of running shoes have I worn?  Racing flats?  Uniforms?  Butt huggers?  And now I am being forced to let go of that.  It’s a loss, one that I’ve found other athletes understand, but few other people.  

My brother said to me, “But running doesn’t make you who you are.”  

He’s right.  But it feels like such a significant part of me, of how I coped with the world, of how I identified myself as someone who is strong and active.  And I’m going to have to change that part of me, find something else to allow me to feel physically strong.  Find something else to take up that space.  

I’m learning that “what I want to be when I grow up” isn’t a fair question, because the what is constantly changing, evolving, adapting.


July 24, 2009 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, heart, identity | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. One of the things that I have a hard time with is just remembering that what I do is not a definition of who I am or even the manifestation of my identity–in whole or in any of its parts–but it is an illustration of parts of me. Many other illustrations would do the same job.

    I remember the summer after my failed suicide attempt I made a friend who didn’t want, even once, to see my writing. She didn’t care where I went to school, or what I read or studied, or what goals I had “to acocmplish” or “do.” She tried to tell me that what I do and who I am are not the same thing–that she wanted to embrace who I was so that when I felt so much at a loss, when I gave up this welding together of the two and I got on with my life, she could be a mirror back to me and show me who I am–purely, unadulterated, without the veneer of action.

    I haven’t seen her or talked to her or heard from her in many many years. But I remember that conversation we had. And in this, I know her and I have at least some access to the mirror she wanted so very much to hold up to me…

    Comment by SK | July 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. my problem with that question has always been, do i really have to grow up? i don’t really want to. also, how would i even know if i was grown up? what the hell doesn that mean?? still, i’m running out of excuses for why i haven’t. i like your take on such a cliched, humbling, often belittling question that everyone gets asked…THanks

    Comment by slzu | July 24, 2009 | Reply

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