by Robyn Justo
So if in the beginning was the Word, I think I might need to buy a vowel.
This isn’t a religious or ethical discourse, yet oddly enough I heard a very similar question being asked in a presentation at church a while back.
Long ago, a little, happy single-celled Sperm-eggo appeared on the scene, complete with DNA (the first identifier). Cells multiplied and divided at warp speed.
This got me ruminating, prompting an internal parade of rhetorical questions relentlessly marching through my brain … when in the heck did I begin? Was it in Mom’s womb? Prior to? The moment of my first heartbeat? My first breath? Or MY first word?
I’m here now, but where am I? I mean the specific and localized “I.”
When I was born, I was immediately classified and identified, fragmented into categories, choices from columns A and B, male or female, normal or abnormal. They measured me horizontally and put me on a scale like a few pounds of meat. I was given a name, a Social Security number, and an inky footprint.
And so the ego was birthed, including lots of labels that others gave me and many that I picked up and stuck to my own skin. If one gets a name, ego automatically comes along for the wild ride and most of the time ends up driving. Ego picks a few identifiers and the game begins. Smart, dumb, bad, good, pretty, funny-looking, shy, outgoing, tall, short, handsome, ugly, cool, un-cool, interesting, boring, and so on.
I arrived with a baby body, then got a “terrible two” toddler body, trading it in for a little kid body, later morphing into an aggravating adolescent, then young adult, regular adult, middle-aged person, and a senior creature.
In this process there are always infinitely more identifiers to choose from. Daughter, girlfriend, wife, salesperson, writer, policeman, doctor, minister, lawyer, bum. And out of those, the categories became even more defined (and confined). Gay, straight, fat, skinny, rich, poor, lovable, unlovable, sexy, frumpy, spiritual, atheistic.
Over the years, I had my chubby (label) times so I lost weight. Sometimes I wondered, if I kept losing weight, how much could I lose until I lost the original “I” and where was the “I” in those lost pounds now, the ones I knew had my DNA in them. (And where is Mama June?)
It is said that we get a new body every seven years, skin and all. Why doesn’t my skin look new if I have done this silly regeneration thing nine times? Do my skin cells have memory of the old me?
All of our cells start out with DNA. Then, believe it or not, some cells (like red blood, hair, skin, and nails) destroy the nuclei. My hair is obviously no longer mine because it is dropping off my head like it’s done with me.
I hear that we keep some old neurons and some tooth enamel cells stick around during the continual trade-in process. Maybe “I” is a partial brain with teeth.
Or maybe “I” lives in my mind. Hmmm, thoughts live in the mind, yes? And memories too. Maybe “I” am just one of those thoughts, created by all of those labels that lose their adhesive over time.
Maybe I am too self-absorbed. Maybe “I” is the one asking these questions. And maybe we just have been taught to believe that there is a separate, individuated “I.” Oh this is hurting my aging neurons.
I want to watch Wheel of Fortune. I need to buy another vowel. (What IS that word??) There is no “U” and I really don’t think there is an “I.”
It might be easier Finding Nemo or Dory.