Who We Are

Once again I am moving a comment to a page, allowing other readers easier access to it.  Actually, it is more of an essay than a comment, anyhow. Thank you, Kaye.


The more we ponder this issue of who we are, the more I realize that it can divert us from the paths of happiness and achievement. When we focus on defining who we are in a narrow sense, such as, by race, socioeconomic group, or place of origin, we’re in a mess if we fit into multiple categories, because there are so many possible combinations that we might have to hunt a long time to find someone exactly like us.

When we’re too focused on these narrow issues from our pasts, sometimes we start the blame game. I could have been more successful if my parents had not (fill in the blank) or my teachers hadn’t picked on me, or I was from a different ethnic or socioeconomic group, etc.

When we live in the past and play the blame game, it’s hard to enjoy the present and it’s harder to achieve to our full potential.

When my Tennessee-born father and my Kentucky-born mother moved to Dayton, my mom went to lengths to deflect questions about where she was from. She would admit to being from the South, but she didn’t want to say she was from Kentucky because in Dayton, apparently too many Kentuckians got in knife fights in bars in the 1940s and 1950s and she didn’t want people to think she was the type of person to do that. Good grief, she wore dresses and heels to the grocery store and was very much a lady. I doubt anyone would have made the connection that she feared.

When I worked at a university in eastern Kentucky, a member of my staff was very embarrassed for anyone to know her maiden name. She lived in a small town that was about 30 miles distant. We asked for details and she finally told us her maiden name. We sat there looking puzzled, so she told us that someone in her family who had the same last name had been sent to prison. It had not occurred to her that all you had to do was drive 30 miles and the situation changed completely.

I’m a white female who was born in Ohio. My ancestors were mainly from England and Scotland or Ireland, but I also have some Cherokee ancestors, thanks to a couple of great, great (not sure how many greats) grandmothers. Though I don’t know anything about these relatives, I’m proud of them. Having Cherokee blood is generally an acceptable heritage in Kentucky, but if I moved to the Southwest, I wonder if I would be less likely to mention my Cherokee heritage. Their memories of hostilities between settlers and Native Americans are more recent and life on reservations hasn’t worked out well for a lot of people who were forced onto them.

From the time I was a teen, I was embarrassed about my last name because it was the same as an American scoundrel and I had no idea if this scoundrel was related to me. I knew I was not like this person, but it made me very uncomfortable knowing that people might think I was. I was relieved when I got married because that gave me a different last name. When I divorced, I kept my married name because it matched that of my children. When I divorced a second time, I could have kept that married name, which is a fairly prominent old family name in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky (small pond, that it is), but I decided to go back to my family name. I’m a little bit ashamed to admit that it took me almost half a century to realize that my original last name was actually the right one to be proud of. I realized that the high value my family placed on honesty, thriftiness, and hard work were not qualities posessed by everyone, but these were things that were taken for granted in my family and they were a valuable part of my heritage.

I also started noticing that a fair number of prominent people, especially in the news business, share my last name. So, now I’m proud of my name. It would be a pretty boring world if we were all identical. We are who we are. I think we would be happier if we accepted all parts of ourselves instead of liking some parts and disliking other parts. One of the joys of passing my 50th birthday a few years ago was that I became more comfortable in my own skin. Who I have been doesn’t matter and the “they” who might not want us to do something can simply get lost. That doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly decided to become a less law-abiding citizen, but it does mean that I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m living my life for me and for my own satisfaction. I wonder why I couldn’t figure that out earlier?!!!



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