Who are you really?

It appears a move is in my future. I’ve reached the top of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher list in my county and this time it’s portable: I can live anywhere in the United States I wish. I’ve been very very good at following the rules and now I can be rewarded. I don’t have to live in low-income housing, or a senior ghetto, or stay at what society views as the bottom of the pond.

So, I find myself going through my things. I’ve learned to live on and with so little, everything seems rather extraneous; over-the-top. Things I used to believe defined me — diaries, manuscripts, pictures, poetry; even clothes, favorite books, and decorative items — I’ve learned do not. This lesson was brought home to me last year during the fires that raged through Oregon, when we were on high evacuation status. When it came right down to it, I knew I could leave all those defining “things” behind, these records of the stories about myself.

As it happened, I did not have to evacuate. Increasing accessibility issues opened the door to living in a new place, and here I am — still surrounded by boxes and shelves of my life story. With all those cobwebs of memory and intertwining ties that bind, these relics of my past have been up to now the most difficult to sort through. That is why they’ve accompanied me back and forth across the Atlantic, and have lived in other people’s basements and garages and scattered storage units in several states. I felt they defined me. I needed them to prove to myself and others that I’ve had a life. Really, I have!

What I realized with a shock today is that what I’m required to keep if I’m to live in the United States and its unreal reality has absolutely zero to do with who I am: bank records, medical receipts, driver’s license, passport, five years’ rental history, birth certificate, Social Security card. And, most shocking of all to me, my credit record. How on earth did a credit score become a defining-one-as-a-good-human benchmark? Really, think about it!

We are not our documents. We are not, despite our agonies over it and the constant checking of websites to “know where we stand,” our credit score. We are not our birth cert, or marriage cert, or divorce decree, or bank balance. We are not our Covid vaccine status, or passport, or criminal record, or record of church attendance. For one thing, identity theft (what a crazy idea! as if we can be stolen!) thrives on duplicating, stealing, and fabricating these various records. Indeed, if there were no records, what would they steal at all?

If I’m to exist in this current reality, though, I must keep all those things that most definitely do not define me, for there are still so many people who believe they do. It’s enough, for now, to know that these “records” are not who I am — really.

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