Tony Campolo tells a story in one of his books about something that happened after World War II. There were more than 200 Frenchmen who returned to Paris suffering from amnesia. They had been in prison camps and were so psychologically devastated by their ordeal that they had lost the conscious awareness of who they were.
In most cases, their identities were quickly established, but after all that was done, there were still 32 men whose identities couldn’t be verified. The doctors who were treating them were convinced that their chances for recovery were slim unless they were connected with former friends and relatives and restored to their once-familiar settings.
Someone had an idea to help. They published photographs of the men on the front page of newspapers throughout the country, and gave a date and time when anyone having information about any of these amnesia victims could come to the Paris Opera House. Well, on the appointed day, a crowd gathered to view these war veterans who didn’t know who they were. In a dramatic moment, the first of the amnesia victims walked onto the stage of the darkened opera house, stood alone in the spotlight, and slowly turned completely around. Before the hushed audience, in a halting voice, he said to the crowd, “Does anybody out there know who I am?”
It is a profound question.
I mentioned on this blog that recently I had a Grand Mal seizure at work. Fortunately I work at a doctor’s office and two of the best doctors I have ever met were on the scene within seconds. At least that is what I was told. I don’t remember any of it. Apparently I also became physically violent at one point as well, although I wasn’t there to see it.
It is a scary thing to wake up on a gurney and not know what is happening. It is very similar to waking up from an operation with that foggy pseudo-understanding that something has happened and you should know what that is. You understand, on some level, that you shouldn’t be in an ambulance – it’s a work day. It gradually dawns on you that you don’t know where you are or for that matter, who you are.
I could not remember where I lived.
It is a bizarre thing to realize you do not know who you are.
Many of us spend our entire lives trying to find out who we are. We jump through hoops and do things hoping to be loved, only to find out that we have lost a sense of ourselves. We grew up believing we were going to be rock stars and multi-millionaires, at the very least healthy, wealthy and wise, but we aren’t, and we may not get there anytime soon. It is easy to build your identity on the wrong things, trying to impress the wrong people for the wrong reasons. It is no wonder than that so many of us have come to the conclusion that the real world is boring and life has little meaning unless we find it from within.
The older I get the more I realize that life does not hand you meaning, you have to grab it for yourself. The paltry drive to acquire more money and status is so entirely meaningless yet enticing. How many rock stars and celebrities have to kill themselves or end up in rehab before we as a people stop spending our lives wishing for something that does not heal our souls?
So who are you? As Billy Crystal says in the immortal Princess Bride, “Hey! Hello in there! Hey! What’s so important? Whatcha got here, that’s worth living for?”
- Casual Friday – Stampy The Elephant (scott-williams.ca)
- Beating Anxiety And Depression Is Possible, But It May Be More Work Than You Are Prepared To Do (scott-williams.ca)
9 thoughts on “Casual Friday: Does Anybody Out There Know Who I Am?”
I’m so sorry you went through such horrible trauma. I had severe PTSD since childhood. I promise you’ll get through it. I’m so glad you know how to ask for help – keeping it in will make you sick, but if you let the trauma come up to the surface a little at a time (in safe places, of course), it will go away. Have you tried EMDR? It was the single most effective method for healing my PTSD. Guided imagery is great too. Praying for you…keep going.
some people know the answer to the question only thing is they cant really be who they are..its a good post makes one think alot
Thank you Scott. Profound and thought provoking post! The quest to find ourselves is a worthwhile one for sure. And once we do find ourselves, the next journey is to love who we are unconditionally, despite whatever it is we find.
I don’t really know who you are to answer the question in the title of this post. I do know you were mentioned in a blog that was freshly pressed where they stated they think of their blog as an ongoing conversation with you, so you must be a very thoughtful and nice person.
I sometimes wonder if I really know who I am; there’s the me no one knows, the me friends know, the me my family knows, the me significant others will/did know, the me I like to show to the world, the creative me, and the the list goes on. Too many facets, if blended together, what picture would it paint? Though maybe I have D.I.D 🙂
I love this. You know, I read almost everyday. And although most days, I can’t bring myself to come up with a thoughtful reply, I still read and think about. Each day, I come up with the same question. How? How do we go about doing these brilliant things? It’s something we all should want to do, because your words are absolutely inspiring. But how do we define ourselves?
Most people define themselves through work or family. But, what if those things seem lacking? How do you go about finding yourself? Because for some people, like myself, the identity crisis doesn’t start with an overgrown path. It starts in a thick forest, turned around, in the middle of nowhere.
I sometimes question the whole idea of ‘self-knowledge’. At work I’m a worker, at play a musician / father / idiot! In new situations I’m often surprised at my own behaviour or choice or reaction. Occasionally I choose what I don’t want just to be doing something new.
Maybe once we’ve decided who we are, all we’ve done is limit who we will be from now on?
A bit like belief; after all, what is belief except to say “I accept something without evidence”, after all, once you have evidence it’s not belief any more, it’s knowledge.
Likewise self-identity is just “i expect in this situation I would do that“. But you may not, and once you have done this or that, it’s past – it’s memory not speculation.
Be here now!