After observing elderly veterans proudly wearing their military caps, retired firefighters wearing a fire department cap or t-shirt, and retired union or company members wearing a branded cap or jacket, I thought about a thought-provoking statement someone once made regarding our identity. He said something like, “If your identity is wrapped up in what you do, you can lose that identity when you can no longer do it, like a pro ball player becoming seriously injured. But if your identity is based on who you are, no one can take that away.”
Who are you?
I asked a few people what they considered their identity to be. I guess most people have never been asked that question or really even given it much thought, because most seemed mystified when asked. I tried to make it a bit less daunting and intimidating by asking, “What t-shirt or hat would you wear to tell people who you are?” Their expression went from overwhelmed to intrigued to confounded. Most adults do relate their identity to their profession, but as they think about it more deeply, they wouldn’t necessarily say it’s their identity. Many young people relate their identity either to what they are good at, like an artist or an athlete, or they mention their sexual orientation. Both adults and young people might also mention their passion, or the political, religious, racial or social group to which they belong. We all want a sense of belonging or feeling like our life matters—like we matter, and we will often wear the t-shirt that helps communicate or attract that.
Some people consciously or subconsciously allow their identity to be found in their disabilities rather than their abilities, or maybe their physical appearance, financial status, or their past. How many stories of athletes with disabilities have you heard? They did not allow their disability to keep them there. We will live out what we think or believe and allow that to be our identity. Even though we are who we are because our past has molded us, we should not allow our past to define us and keep us from growing into who we would like to be. A young friend once said:
“Someone’s past does not define who they are; it’s who they’ve chosen to be today.” —Keith Duane Soules, Jr.
The t-shirts in the photo are both mine and my husband’s. His daughter made the white t-shirt for him for Father’s Day when she was a little girl, and he still wears it every year for that occasion. He’s a good father. Although he wears the Mr. Incredible t-shirt given to him as a gift, he himself is too modest to claim the identity of Mr. Incredible, but he really is.
Who am I?
I am and have been many things. I used to be very religious and wore Christian t-shirts, not because I wanted people to think of me as good and religious, but because I was taught that our purpose was “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” and “to make Him known” so everyone could know and be loved by Him, too. Some of my beliefs, understandings and practices have changed since then, but that’s another topic. I’m a photographer—but then again, isn’t everyone now? Ha ha! I do have a camera t-shirt, but I can often be seen wearing a fire department or first responder t-shirt or jacket. Even though I think I will always be a first responder at heart, a time will come—and I’m already beginning to feel it coming on with age—when I will no longer be able to perform all the tasks necessary to remain one. I still have a few more years left in me! I recently became a rehab tech, which also requires a certain level of strength and mobility, and I’m grateful that it’s a physical job and one that allows me to care for and assist others. Having wonderful therapists as co-workers is a bonus, because they have helped me overcome injuries, regain mobility, and learn better body mechanics. But when I think about who I am and who I want to be, what it really comes down to is simply this: a kind human-being growing in love. I delight in finding and photographing hearts, so if I could pick only one t-shirt or cap to proclaim my identity, it would have a heart or the word “L O V E” on it.
What t-shirt or cap would you wear?