I absolutely love Saint Patrick’s Day because it’s a day when I get to celebrate my family’s heritage and one of my favorite places on earth – Ireland! My family traditions are no joke when it comes to Saint Paddy’s Day, right down to the green breakfast and the corned beef dinner. So, it’s been pretty interesting to be in a country where there is the exact opposite of celebration happening in most places.
It has been an absolute impossible task to explain to my au pair family the significance of this day. In fact, my nine year old informed me that since it’s not a French holiday, it isn’t a real holiday at all.
But, after 7 months, I’m used to the realization that the general French population doesn’t accept things that seem normal or even second nature to me. I still celebrate, anyway. And yes that means giving my kids green baths, baking green cookies and listening to Celtic music. The celebration must go on!
And being in an expat state of mind, today, also reminded me of something else I love celebrating: identity. What makes us who we are? As someone who comes from a biracial background my own identity has been quite the journey to come to terms with, mostly because, growing up, I never felt like I was entitled to it.
But through the years, I’ve slowly begun to unravel the tangled ball of self-identity that we all have to face, in one way or another, at some point. We all are faced with the questions of who we are, and who we want to be.
When I first moved to France I had a really hard time adjusting to the craziness of suddenly having absolutely nothing to define me. I no longer had my friends, my job, my apartment, my family…in short I had nothing. I didn’t even have a phone.
Actually, I still don’t have a phone.
I stood in this foreign country knowing 50% of the language, having no idea what was surrounding me, and wondering what I was thinking when I stepped on the plane that brought me there. I was so scared. I cried so much. I wanted to go back home more than anything in the world, not because I was homesick, but because I was felt so hopelessly lost.
Who was I?
Right about this time, I had a friend who sent me a message that just meant so much to me, and I don’t think they probably even know. It reminded me that I had people back home who loved me, people who supported me and who cared about me. And as simple as that seemed at the moment; those words have circulated in my mind for the past 7 months, again and again.
I have people who love me.
If there has been one theme from this year it has been the love and support of the people back home. I’ve said it before, but I just have no idea how I got so lucky. Maybe it was my Irish blood (Just kidding. Every Morehouse knows our Irish blood is cursed with bad luck).
When I moved to France it was because I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I felt like I needed to “do something with my life” in order for me to figure out if it was worth anything. In short, I felt like I needed to prove myself.
And I intended to – prove myself, that is. I fully intended on this year being the best year of my life. Of everything going beautifully and me then having triumphant tales to spread far and wide for all to hear.
Then the first blow came. And the second. And the third, and fourth and fifth and sixteenth.
And all I could think was “Wait!! This isn’t how this was supposed to be!”
And maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.
I don’t have a crystal ball showing me what direction my life is going in or why things happen. But I do know that when these things happened to me, they pushed me closer to myself than I’ve ever been before. Why? Because when everything else is stripped away, when you have nothing left and you’re just sitting there, you realize what actually matters in the grander scheme of things. And here’s a hint: It’s not a smartphone.
Over the past months I’ve realized just how much my identity is reflected through the hearts of the people who love me, and love well. The people who have laughed, and cried and sent me words of encouragement, even though it was in no way convenient for them to do so. They gain nothing by being the best friends a girl could ask for. But I guess that’s the truest test of love when it comes down to it – selflessness.
Who am I? I have no idea. But I know that each day I feel like I’m getting to know myself a little better. And maybe I’ll never reach that point of really knowing. Maybe I’ll forever be searching out this person who can be defined by a label or a category.
But, for now, I am just me: a writer, artist, geek, class clown, adventurer, leader, fashionista, sporadic, camera obsessed, storyteller traveler who thinks of impossible things and jumps at the chance to take on new experiences. It’s not a perfect identity, and it sometimes feels like I’m being pulled in fifteen different directions, but I am me. I am both a dreamer and a doer, an academic and an artist. I sketch pictures of superheroes and modern fashion trends. I live in the present, but I’m in love with the past. I’m a reader and a writer. I am of Africa and I am of Ireland.
But most of all, I am loved.
More than I ever knew before. More than I ever could have imagined.
And that, is the greatest part of my identity that I ever could have discovered.
(Also, I’m going back to Ireland in a month!! I’m so excited!)