Well I've learned a lot about myself this week. I've been quizzed on all kinds of past addresses, telephone numbers, any tidbit of information that folks can come up with to establish my identity as the person I say I am. I'm grateful for the diligence. At this point the threat of identity theft is the greatest concern and it's completely valid given the breadth of ID and so forth that was stolen.
But somethings far more important were stolen from me as well. And these more important things gone have taught me the greatest lessons and given the most fuel for theological reflection. It seems the experience becomes richer and richer by the day. So I wanted just to record some of the thoughts about the week.
I've been thinking alot about the passage in Matthew 16: 15-16 where Jesus asks someone who knows him well... Peter, "who do you say I am?" I ran across this great poster at the Mennonite Central Committee Store that talks about internalized racism and systematized racism. I've felt just a touch of what it means to be "alien", "illegal", "other", "outsider" in a country. I've spent the week knowing what it feels like to be outside the United States without proof of my US citizenship, unable to freely travel across the border between the US and Canada. Even in the extreme privilege I live in... even in my white, educated, middle classed package I've had to contend with the dilemma of building back an identity and proving who I am.
I've sat in Canadian government office for hours on end watching the endless parade of humanity that flows through the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Health, the Passport office. I've watched the families and admired the diversity of multicultural realities that have passed before me. I've seen the children of immigrants and new citizens playing on the floors of the agencies as their parents wait their turn, numbers in hand, waiting for their number to appear on the signs showing which window to go to to solve their particular problem. I've watched people of many languages and colors and cultures go to those windows and listened as Canadian government workers handle their issues with the utmost respect, affording them the dignity they deserve. I've seen the smiles as new landed immigrants leave with the documents they need to access healthcare or drive. And I've seen smiling faces of all colors leaving the passport offices, new passport in hand, with the bubble of anticipation for going on a vacation or to visit friends or family in far, far away places all over the world. I've nearly wept more than once as I listened to the government workers patiently talk with people who barely speak English. I've nearly wept as they've patiently consoled me and assured me this will one day all be sorted. Giving me reassuring smiles... just like they gave the Asian or Indian or African or Arab person who just preceded me in line.
All this has given me a new perspective on identity in general and my own identity particularly. I have a new appreciation for the person who lives and works and falls in love and even has children in a country where they have no legal identity... where they have no proof of who they are.
I've also thought a lot about the concept of safety and what a fragile and illusive thing it is. I've considered how I construct the idea of safety in my mind. I've come to terms with the reality that it may be years before I feel truly safe again. It was utter irony that in one of my 12 step meetings last Saturday as we were studying a book called Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions I read a sentence I had never noticed before even though I'd read it God only knows how many times. It's in the chapter on the 4th tradition and it says, "We had discovered that there was perfect safety in the process of trail and error." I had been beating myself for my stupidity... for not having copies, for leaving my wallet in the car, for having so many documents in one bag, some that could have VERY easily been left behind at home in case of some disaster JUST such as this. But there it was, plain as day. Lighten up. Easy Does It. Let Go and Let God. This too shall pass. So what if you made a mistake, you'll learn and do better and maybe even help others to avoid the same fate. "Perfect safety in the process if trial and error." What a lesson.
Perhaps the thing that's weighed most heavily on my mind is how important identity is to a person and how very, very important it is that we allow each person to define or construct their own identity. I've considered how infinitely more complex my challenges would have been this week if I'd ever changed my name or my gender identity. The full force of having to check "female" on countless forms, over and over and over. The complete disconnect saying "yes" to "have you ever been married" on the US Passport forms knowing that the US doesn't recognize my marriage even though it is a perfectly legal marriage in Canada that ought to be respected under the Marriage Treaty. I've considered the serenity I've felt when I've spent time in prayer with the knowledge that God knows exactly who I am and what I need without filling out a single form, without me even needing to ask.
"Who do you say that I am?" I wonder what Jesus expected to hear when he asked that question. I wonder if Peter's answer matched who he understood himself to be... or was he surprised?
I give thanks for all the incarnations of the Christ who have come to me this week. I wonder if they know who they've been to me?