I had an interesting thing happen to me yesterday. As many of you know, about three years ago I set out on a journey to change my life. I started going to the gym and over the course of several months, lost more than 70 lbs.
I had to learn to deal with people asking me questions about how I did it, and in a few cases, if I'd had surgery. I found excessive compliments embarrassing. And I almost decked the guy who asked, "So is it all real? The weight loss? The boobs? I mean, you must have had surgery, right?"
The answers were simple - and very UNsexy. No surgery. No diets. Sensible eating. (The Canada Food Guide, to be exact. It's pretty boring - and it works.) And lots of physical activity. I have stretch marks and extra skin that are, as I like to put it, the price I paid for freedom.
There were numerous times when people I hadn't seen in a long time expressed shock or simply walked past without recognizing me. It felt strange.
I've more or less maintained my weight for a couple of years now. This "new" me is no longer new, but is a person I've grown into. I understand that there are no guarantees that I won't gain all the weight back. I've been big before and I can be big again.
Somewhere in that process I became a runner. I also remember accepting the title with reluctance, telling people "I'm a wanna be runner... not really a runner." Or "I run, but I'm not a runner" or worse "I'm a plodder." At some point I accepted that I am a runner... and I grew into that, too.
Yesterday I was at a retirement party for a lady I used to work with. I left the job several years ago and haven't seen many of the people who were there for a long time. A few of them showered me in the same compliments that were more numerous a few years ago. I still felt uncomfortable with the attention, but have tried to learn to be gracious about it. I say thank you and then turn the conversation back to them, asking how they are or what they've been up to.
Then a puzzling, shocking thing happened. I saw a girl that worked with us, in our little office of four people. We both left the department in the same year. She moved thousands of miles away, back to her home province and we lost touch. She had flown in especially for the retirement party.
She walked by me and I called her name, greeting her with a big smile, saying, "What are you doing here? Great to see you!"
She looked at me in a searching way and finally said, "I know you... I know that I know you, but I'm sorry, I don't really remember..."
I was baffled. We worked together for four years. And there were only four people in our department - one of whom was the person whose retirement we were all there to celebrate! How could she not remember?
I said, "It's Sarah."
She put her hand over her mouth and said, "Oh my God. I didn't recognize you! I can't believe it. I even asked (so-and-so) if you were going to be here. I was looking for you, but I... I'm so sorry. How are you?!" She was visibily embarrassed, stammering and awkward.
We both quickly recouped and had a good visit, eventually exchanging e-mail addresses and promises to stay in touch.
I recounted this story to a friend who's known me for a decade now. I was a bit dumbfounded that someone I'd worked with in such a small setting for so long wouldn't recognize me. Not even by voice!
My friend said she understood how it could happen. "You've changed so much," she said. "You forget. Those of us who see you all the time, we all forget, too. But, I can see how that could happen."
Hhhmmm... It got me thinking about identity... who we are.... how we see ourselves. When we change, are we still the same?
I have a couple of friends who have become born-again Christians. In one case, the girl was a total party animal in university. The change was drastic and seemed sudden to many of us, though she says it was a long time in the making. I remember her being so stinking drunk at parties she couldn't stand up. Now she doesn't touch a drop of liquor. She married within her faith and has two great kids who are being raised by very strict moral rules. She is very, very adament about her new way of life... And seems sincerely happy with it, too. Which is the "real" her? The party animal or the convert? I still have a hard time reconciling the two. Essentially, she has always been a good person, so I try to just accept her and not judge what I don't understand.
This post is a little disjointed, but I guess the main question I wanted to throw out there is in addition to labels, what does identity mean to you? If you look back in time, is the person you are today the one you expected yourself to be?
"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."- e.e. cummings