My ‘Constellation of Selves’

There’s a really great blog I like to read called Common Ties in which ordinary people submit vignettes of their lives for online publication. The managers of the blog choose the best submissions for the subject they’ve posted so readers aren’t bogged down wading through hundreds of boring or poorly written stories to find the gems.

A recent subject had to do with college and ways in which people “found” themselves there. In his story, Peter Colclasure of Madison, Wisconsin, wrote:

“Do you ever stop asking who you are? Identity becomes more elusive, and illusive, the more you try to pin it down, to fix it in space and relation. A friend of mine once said, ‘I’m a different person from day to day. If you think you’re consistent you’re lying to yourself.’ Rather than one self maybe a constellation of selves, like a physics equation, a mere probability of self at any given moment and nothing more. You never know who you are. You just try and make peace with the mystery.”

It got me thinking: How do I identify myself, and do those labels adequately describe who I am day to day?

Labeling ourselves or giving ourselves titles identifying our relationship to others and within society gives us history. I am Mom, Sister, Daughter, Writer. I recently described myself to a friend as “the wife of my best friend.” These labels are my safety net, the way I belong in the world.

But who I am within those labels, well, that’s what this guy’s story has me thinking about this weekend. Seems I’m constantly striving to “make peace with the mystery.” Being consistent is like nailing air. The decisions I make, the consequences I live with, how I think and choose and dream is different every day.

This was very clear yesterday morning as I grappled with a difficult decision. It involved putting my own immediate needs in the context of my anticipated long-term needs. I weighed all sides and listened to my gut, my head, and my sensory reactions. I made a decision, betting that in the long run, my immediate need would be quelled in the security the long-term promises. Within making that decision is where I felt I was a “constellation of selves.” One self would have chosen another path on a different day. Yesterday’s self chose to gamble on the side of safety. That immediate need is still very real, but the me of tomorrow and the next day and the next has to deal with the decision made by yesterday’s self. The lack is what it is.

The labels we or others give us identify what we are. Our day-to-day thoughts and feelings, and our understanding of truth and guilt and love and happiness identify who we are. Who will I be tomorrow? A little happier, I hope. A little wiser, definitely.

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