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Who Are You

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Who Are You?

Well, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

“Who Are You?” a song written in 1979 by none other than The Who, is one of the most repetitive songs of all times. The word who is repeated 150 times to my count. Well – who are you? Do you really wanna know?

Emily Dickinson answered the question in a poem and then turned it around with her own question,

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?

I might think that’s an easy question to answer. But what if you ask me, “Who are you?” I might say, “Well, I’m Jim Melvin, of course.” That doesn’t satisfy you. “Those are just words on a page,” you say. “Who are you really?” I answer, “I’m a seventy-one-year-old man?” Unsatisfied you press on. “You were seventy last year. Are you a different person now and will you be a different person again next year when you turn seventy-two?” I decide to turn to my profession. “I’m a Lutheran pastor.” You’re ready for that one. “Were you someone else before you were ordained? Does that mean you’ll be somebody else when you retire?” I’m getting frustrated. It’s around election time so I guess maybe you want to know my political affiliation. “I’m a Democrat,” I say definitively. Of course, that won’t satisfy you, so you press further. “What if you don’t like the person your party nominates for president this year and you vote republican? Will you be a different person then? Who ARE you?”

At this point I’m going to call time out to take a little break and think about this question more deeply. It wasn’t so easy after all. As I go deeper and deeper it occurs to me that there is a part of me that has never changed. I can remember looking out at the world as a little child and I recognize that the same me is looking at the computer screen as I write this. The same four-year-old me that looked up at my mother’s face as I sat on her lap is the same me that looked down at her lying on a bed the day she died. There is continuity in my me-ness.

Who am I? I am the subject of my own life. I look out at the never-ending river of experiences that flow by me. I am the one who from the inside watched this body around me age for seventy-one years. I am the one who my parents named James Edmund Melvin and others called pastor. I am the one who assigned labels to myself like Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, depending upon my time in life and the current situation in our country and world. Who am I? I am consciousness. I am my soul or what the Buddhists call Atta. I am the stable part of being. I am eternal. I am the one who looks out at the world in wonder through the portals of my eyes. I am the one who is relationship with God, with the divine.

This may seem like a frivolous exercise, the epitome of naval gazing. If we stumble through life without this realization, however, we live as prisoners of our own illusions. Our illusions become delusions when we believe that they are real. There is great freedom in this knowledge. Now we are free to redefine the artificial identities that we have constructed and make ourselves new. The only thing that cannot change is me. With greater insight we can redefine our outer identity to match the inner. When we do, we experience greater happiness, freedom and authenticity than we have ever known before.

I invite you too look in a mirror. Look past the worry lines that have developed over the years. See if you can envision the child that looked in a mirror many years ago and saw him or herself for the first time. Say hi to you. Sit quietly when you have a moment to be alone. Listen to the thoughts swirling in your head. Who is doing the listening? That’s you. That’s who you are watching and listening to your life. Enjoy the show. Enjoy life. You have been liberated.

To turn the question of Emily Dickinson’s poem around again –

I’m Somebody! Who are you?
Are you – Somebody – Too?