In Some Further Words, Wendell Berry wrestles with what it means to be human – who we are, where we come from, and how we live. He writes:
I think the issues of “identity” mostly
are poppycock. We are what we have done,
which includes our promises, includes
our hopes, but promises first. I know
a “fetus” is a human child.
I loved my children from the time
they were conceived, having loved
their mother, who loved them
from the time they were conceived
and before. Who are we to say
the world did not begin in love?
Think of the genius of the animals,
every one truly what it is:
gnat, fox, minnow, swallow, each made
of light and luminous within itself.
They know (better than we do) how
to live in the places where they live.
And so I would like to be a true
human being, dear reader – a choice
not altogether possible now.
But this is what I’m for, the side
I’m on. And this is what you should
expect of me, as I expect it of myself,
though for realization we may wait
a thousand or a million years.
I spend a lot of time thinking about #thekindofperson I want to be. Yet Wendell Berry says my identity is poppycock. Senseless talk. Nonsense. Not that who I am or who I’m becoming doesn’t matter, but that I only know what kind of person I am by the things I’ve done, the promises I’ve made, the hopes I hold on to. I don’t need to think about that kind of person, I can’t define or create or change her. I can only live as she does. I can only do and act and promise and hope as she would.
In this sense, identity is a practice in hindsight. I look back on what I’ve done and I discover who I am. This discovery – the journey to become a true human being – may take a long time. And since hindsight is required, you’ll never actually know when you’ve finally arrived. So gear up, I think Wendell Berry is saying, and learn the simplicity of what it means to live in the place where you live, inhabiting the life you inhabit, loving those that you love.