I’m not that kind of person. I would never do that.
Growing up, we were warned incessantly with the click of a tongue and side-cast eyes, if you judge it, you’re gonna walk it. Mama would quietly but emphatically remind us to be careful with our words. She knew well that humble pie had a lingering bitter taste.
Don’t say you would never ’cause you don’t know. You don’t know what you’d do. And unless you wanna find out what you’d do, you’d best rebuke that right now.
And then, without waiting, she’d rebuke it for us. In Jesus’ name.
Our mother had a million ways of telling us to let our yeses be yeses and our nos be nos. It was from the Bible, a book with which she was intimately familiar. She never wielded its lessons as weapons, but instead handed them out like aspirin for an aching soul, a cup of water for a parched spirit. She had no business beating us or anyone else over the head with all that was to be learned in its pages. She had strayed as far from those teachings as any human being, and she knew it. Her own imperfection drove her to gently try and shield us from our individual fallibility.
The past couple of years have been a painful lesson in learning that there is no “kind of person”. It is only very recently that I managed to arrive at this conclusion, only through errant and egocentric fumbling, and an eventual crash borne of my own selfishness. Finally, I am able to concede that it is a travesty to reduce ourselves and each other to checklists of fixed characteristics, and to deny that identity is fluid.
Throughout my late teens, into my twenties, and now as a thirty-year old, I have learned that I am all kinds of things I never believed I was. All kinds of things I didn’t believe I was capable of being. And if each of us is a “kind of person”, then I am the kind of person who is often riddled with deficiencies so prominent they consume me like a cancer.
Over the years I discovered I am capable of being the kind of person I might judge very harshly. The kind of person I may not like.
I am the kind of person who yells at my dog because I am frustrated with other aspects of my life.
I am the kind of person who has climbed behind the wheel of a car after I had way too much to drink, and had no business driving.
I am the kind of person who makes promises to my loved ones and then lies so I can back out because I don’t feel like following through.
I am the kind of person who mindlessly makes a hateful comment on social media about another woman’s weight. Because that person has the power to hurt me, and that is the only way I can think of to hurt her back.
I am the kind of person who lives in a volatile relationship for months because I am too afraid of change to end it.
I am the kind of person who smiles fake smiles and laughs with people I do not like only to further my career.
I am the kind of person who is capable of being unfaithful to my partner.
I am the kind of person who talks loudly about how women should carry themselves in a professional setting, and then cries in my office.
I am the kind of person who sometimes drinks wine just to access the boxes and boxes of grief that line the shelves of my psyche.
I am the kind of person who hides important parts of myself because I am too cowardly to risk my professional reputation if anyone saw those aspects of me.
I am the kind of person who shoves papers into drawers and clothes into closets to hide my mess, and then pretends shamelessly that I am put together.
I am the kind of person who hides behind a thick layer of humor to avoid real, raw vulnerability.
I am the kind of person whose fickleness can be dizzying, can sweep up and harm those around me.
I am the kind of person who lets pride keep me from asking clearly and directly for what I need.
I am the kind of person who denies the evangelical God of her youth with the sharp-tongued vehemence of a college-educated liberal, only to turn around and beg Him for peace and mercy in the storms of this life.
I am the kind of person who needs more external validation than I can admit.
In evaluating these and myriad other things I am capable of, I have come to realize and acknowledge that I am that kind of person. I am the kind of person I am not very proud of sometimes, the kind of person whose behavior can be abhorrent, the kind of person whose selfishness is staggering, the kind of person for whom a younger version of myself would reserve scathing, bitter judgment.
But, like I said, the phrase is inherently flawed.
I am not that kind of person.
I am that kind of person.
I am that person or I am not that person.
This wording implies that a set of behaviors, or one of a multitude of characteristics, can delineate the immutable truth of a rigid identity. It implies that we have a rigid identity at all.
We don’t. We have a framework. We have a malleable, adaptable lump of clay that we can choose to leave in that flexible state, bending and shaping it as we learn and grow. Or we can choose to develop into something more breakable, delicate and prone to shattering in the face of adversity and stress.
Each of us has shortcomings. We all make mistakes. We are all despicable sometimes.
Unlovable. Unkind. Irredeemable. Wretched.
And we are also generous. Patient. Loving. Thoughtful. Giving. Gentle.
We all are an amalgam of all kinds of good and bad, existing on a continuum.
This post is the culmination of some wild and unexpected happenings in my personal life over the past year, but especially the past couple of months. It may be surprising, but there are some issues in my life that I won’t discuss at a granular level here.
This particular journey has been especially hard because my mother was not here to help me through it. Every issue is made harder by that loss, by that absence. Anyone who grieves knows that never goes away.
She almost unfailingly knew the right words to say to help in making tough choices, to soften the blow of necessary fallout from decisions we made in our lives, decisions we had to make because that is the painful process of being an adult human being. I had to lean heavily on my sisters, and what we do for each other is repeat the phrases our mother would say, trying to anticipate exactly how she would say them in a given context, tailoring accordingly.
It’s all in what you can handle. Her voice was always tender yet insistent when she counseled us. Never pushy.
In recent weeks, as I agonized over how to move forward in my life, I put a smile on my face and pretended in most settings that everything was fine. I believed that if I willed it to be fine, it would be fine. If I could create a set of circumstances that were particularly fertile for producing an abundance of Everything is Fine!, then I could be fine and life would be happy and I could continue marching forward as I was so stubbornly and blindly doing.
But then I would steal quiet moments alone in my car, or sitting on my kitchen floor, or spooning the dog on the couch. In those moments, I furiously wrote in my journal, or sometimes cried, blubbering to my dead mother until I was almost too hoarse to talk.
I could almost feel the scent of her perfume tingle in my nose, the cool palm of her hand pressed on my cheek, her other hand holding both of mine. The only person who has to wake up every day and be you is you. I mean that. You hear me, baby? She’d stare directly into your tearful eyes. You’re the only person who has to be you. Nobody else has to walk in your shoes. And only you know what you can handle. You gotta do what you can handle.
She was a woman who intimately knew regretful choices. Yet she encouraged us always to be true to ourselves. Look at what is in front of you. What can you handle? Forget about your friends, your family, the Joneses. You have to look at your own face in the mirror every day, you have to go through life interacting with people, you have to live with your decisions and their repercussions.
I think the phrase should be shortened simply to I am a person. Or, maybe even more apt is I am. A Person. I am. You are. We are. People. Messy, selfish, missing the mark. Yet, somehow, the fact that we are is enough. We are lovable. Redeemable. Good enough.