Quantum Identity VI: Origin Myths
My entire life was filled with and defined by the story of my miraculous recovery from a car accident. When I was 18 months old I was run over by a drunk driver and was dead for several minutes, and in an answer to prayer, I came back to life. Within a few days all of my bones were healed, and I became the miracle baby of Crystal River, Florida. Nearly everyone in my small town knew the story, and the moral of my story was clear: God had some kind of calling on my life.
This story shaped who I was in profound ways. To this day I've still never been drunk, but perhaps the most important way I was shaped by this story was twofold:
One - I, and everyone familiar with the story, assumed my miraculous return to life meant that I had some kind of divine purpose or calling
Two - I learned later in life that the story was only basically true, but the scene I had painted in my mind was not.
As it turns out, when I was forty my mom sent me the paperwork she had about the car accident, and major details were different. First of all, I had imagined this happening right before Christmas, which would have been around my 18 month mark, and in my internal narration of the event I had a fairly clear picture of what that would look like. As a child I both reveled in a railed against the idea of what that meant. Also, I imagined the drunk driver getting arrested and thrown in jail, and I had worked hard to forgive him for the effects I still had and the scars I bore on my body.
The truth, though, was that it happened in summer, when I was 23 months old, and the driver was not drunk, but elderly. Even more shocking were the documents from the court showing that the driver had tried for years to get my family to tell him whether or not I had survived, but because I was a minor, my identity was never released, and he died with a burden of shame, thinking he had killed me. The man I had resented so much as a child took on an entirely different persona in my mind, and I wished I could go back and tell him that I was okay, and that he was forgiven.
The specter of my miraculous survival overshadowed any sense of my own power over my destiny. "Satan seeks the precious ones" is a dark aphorism that haunted me growing up. In my little town, so steeped in Southern Baptist doctrines and superstitions, I learned that I hadn't just survived an accident, but some kind of satanic assassination attempt. There had been such a calling on my life that the devil himself tried to take me out, but I was so important God intervened.
Just imagine what a story like that does to a child's theology, worldview, and sense of destiny. I never bothered to ink about what I wanted to be when I grew up because I was too busy trying to discern what this hugely important calling must be. Every gift, talent, or passion had to somehow serve a spiritual purpose.
This may be a remarkable story, but all of us are shaped by the mythology of our childhoods. Some of us have them projected upon us, and some make them up as a way of figuring out who we are in the world, but I believe we all tell ourselves stories about who we are and how we became to be ourselves. All of us had dreams we grew out of - or lost in the act of growing up. All of us were burdened by expectations, and all of us have been shaped by events, privilege, opportunity, and limitation. We are products of our stories, but is that the end of it? Who am I if my story is taken away?
The story we take on evolves, but it is still a story: a personal mythology we use to define who we are and who we are not.
I have been a student
For all these years
And a good one at that
Can I say with any truth
That I know myself?
(From To Name is Not to Know)
For some of us, our self examination stops at the nationalities, religions, or genders into which we find ourselves born. For others, like me, we dissect our mythologies, sublimating, healing, denying, or reframing them to become who we want to be as something informed by, but not determined by, our past.
This painting represents that struggle, along with the beauty, pain, and transcendence of that struggle. Some of us struggle in vain against our origin myths, repeating the cycles again and again as we refuse to heal from internal traumas and limiting beliefs. Some of us (like me) struggle intentionally, approaching spiritual, emotional, or psychological work like an athlete approaches endurance training, or like a climber approaches a mountain.
My wings may be clipped by the stories I believe about myself, but I can still maneuver through them as I wish, creating light, deconstructing my assumptions, and finally getting to the heart of the matter: who do I want to be...who do I choose to be right now?