Who You Is

She wasn't exactly sure how old she was, having been born a slave to a master who kept records of his horses more accurately than he did his human property.  But age was of little importance when the life you'd led had been full of enough tragedies to kill you but just enough joys to sustain your hope for better things to come.  She took one last look around the tiny cabin that had been her home all her life.  Its walls slowly caving in, its floor dirt, it was filthy no matter how hard it was scrubbed.  It was the only home she had ever known.  She squeezed the frail hand that held hers and looked at the body it belonged to.  Small, growing ever weaker, her grandmama's spirit was still as strong as ever.  "You sure you ain't comin'?" she asked the old woman. 

"Nope.  Too old. I's born here. I's gonna die here." replied the grandmama.  "I's born here a slave, but I gonna die here free."  She said that last word with such relaxed certainly that she couldn't hide the smile of satisfaction that crept onto her wrinkled old face.

"I hate leavin' ya here like this, all by your lonesome."

"I ain't alone.  I got my memories of the past, and hope for the future.  Dat is all I need."  Grandmama pulled the threadbare quilt tighter around her small frame and patted the girl's hand, "You's scared, ain't ya'?"

"Yes'm." Silence as think as mud filled the cabin around them as the girl searched for words. "I ain't never been anything but a slave and now...now...I'm free.  But the only person I got left in the world is you.  And you ain't leavin' and I got to.  What am I suppossed to do?"

The old woman took a deep breath, gripped her granddaughter's face gently in her hands, and lifted it up to her's, "You was born a slave and ya got so used to it, ya thought you'd die a slave too.  But you is FREE.  Just cause the only thing you ever known is being a slave don't mean that is all you ever gonna be. You is scared because you ain't ever been free before.  And you don't know exactly what that means.  It means YOU bein' You."  She smiled a half-toothless smile at her grandaughter, kissed her on the cheek, took a deep breath, and said,

"Who you WAS ain't gotta be who you IS or who you GONNA BE."


I thought of that scene and the dialogue one evening while driving home from a quick trip into town while home visiting.  I had seen a handful of people I'd known almost my entire life within the course of 5 minutes and for some unknown reason, I couldn't help but wonder how many of us go through our lives defining ourselves, at least in part, by who we were in the past.  Because, you see, one of the curses of living in/growing up in a small town is that people know each other a little too well sometimes and although "they" may never intend to, they seem to develop their own definition of you.  Don't get me wrong: I LOVE small towns!  We plan on retiring back there after our Army years are over.  All places, big or small, crowded or not, have their pros and cons.  BUT...if you ever want to buck the system and redefine yourself, the smaller the town, the bigger the challenge may become.  Not so much because "they" won't allow it (although that still does happen from time to time), but because you've gotten yourself so used to it, that you have a hard time deciding where your definition ends, and theirs begins.  

I'll spare you some years, some trials, some tears, and some drama, and just sum it up the best I can by telling you that by the time I graduated high school I knew my strengths and my weaknesses.  I excelled at school--I loved learning and took to it easily.  My best areas were and still are history, composition, and literature.  My worst was math, but advanced math.  I got all A's in math until senior year when Trig started to kill my all A average and simply said, "To hell with it" and dropped it.  I knew the areas in which I would go onto study would not require even close to that level of math and I felt no remorse in dropping it.  (I never have encountered an area that has made me say, "I wish I'd have stayed in Trig and I might have known this.")  I could sing well and was active in the chorus.  I could act.  I could make people laugh--on stage and in the hallway.  I could give speeches without notes that got my point across well and touched a few people and made them think about things that they otherwise might never have given a second thought to.  I was kind and had a gift of being able to help those close to me through tough times by putting things into perspective using kind words and everyday analogies...oh...and did I mention...making them laugh.  I was NOT however good at holding my head high and shrugging off harsh comments, criticisms.  I was not attractive with my unibrown and boyish haircut and frame (good grief, why didn't anyone kindly tell me to grow my hair out even just a bit!?!?!) and knew that try what may I would never be a pretty and/or popular girl.  But perhaps more evident to me than anything else, I knew I was not athletic in the least.  Not only did I stink at all sports, but I was dreadfully out of shape as was evident by the inability to complete one lap around the outdoor track without dying.  I attempted to play tennis my sophomore year, because I so erroneously thought it was an easy and "lady-like" sport.  I dropped out a few weeks later because the coach actually had the audacity to make us run the equivalant of a quarter mile before each practice and I couldn't do it.

Fast forward a few years...

I joined WeightWatchers in 2004 because I have a family history (on one side) of obesity and saw myself slowly creeping in that direction.  35lbs lighter, I became a Lifetime member of WW in mid-2006 and with the exception of pregnancies, have kept that status: 90% by eating better, 10% by walking more. Sure there are moments (some weeks, some months) when I was a few pounds over, but I always caught myself and got myself back on track.  

One of those moments was about 3 months ago.  I put back on a few extra pounds that I wanted gone.  But that wasn't all.  I finally realized that I had this new and DEEPLY seeded desire to shed this "passive mommy" persona I had going on. You see, other than a leisurely but brisk walk, I'd NEVER in my post-pubescent years been active.  I'm not a big fan of sports--watching or playing--perhaps due in part to my lack of coordination and partly because my husband is not a sports fan either.  But he is VERY active.  He enjoys running, having completed 2 full marathons and countless other "runs for fun," and has always been into weight training as well.  So...I guess up till now I'd just sat back and let him be the "active" parent.  The one to take the boys on a jog, jump on the trampoline with them. Go hiking.  Consider kayaking as a family.  And the entire time, I'd just sit back and watch and smile.  Like I said earlier...I'd always just tended to know what it was I was good at and stuck to those few things.  And since I couldn't run a quarter of a mile without stopping, I automatically defined myself as a "passive mommy."  I would be the one to read to/with them, do crafts, cook, push them on the swing if I had to.  Watch from the side.  But somewhere, somehow, something sparked this desire in me to change that.  I no longer wanted a seat on the sideline.  I wanted in on the active fun!  Even if some of the activities my husband proposed still scared me (kayaking as a family for one), I wanted to overcome that fear and jump up and join in!  Not only did I want my kids to NOT remember me as never wanting to rough-house and get physically active, I didn't want to remember myself that way either!  But where to start?  The desire to redefine yourself can be easily found, but knowing where and how to do so is the hard part.

And then I remember something: at one point in ROTC years ago, the lieutenant colonel in charge looked me straight in the eye and said, "you know what the saddest thing about you is?  You are scared to push yourself beyond what you don't already know you're good at."  At that time, I knew he was right but I brushed it off and "b.s.-ed" my way out of the conversation (b.s.-ing being something I knew I was good at.)  But his words stuck with me.  He was right.  I knew what talents God had blessed me with and therefore just assumed that anything else was just automatically either not meant for me.  I would either never like it and/or always suck at it no matter what.  

The first step was admitting that I was holding MYSELF slave to what I thought I would always be.  Nobody else was doing it to me.  It was me.  The world was free!  The handful of people I ran into in the store while home didn't and wouldn't care if kept on being the "old" me (who I was), or if I completely changed my outlook and redefined myself as active person, heck, even an athlete (who I is!)  It was me who cared.  Me who was afraid to take any step outside my comfort zone.

After that, the next step was easy.  For me, it was starting Couch to 5K and getting myself to the point where I could run an entire 5k race.  And I'm almost there.  And I've found I love running!  I may not run long distances.  I may find other active fitness options I like better, but I know I am the only thing standing between me and the finish line.

Some one out there may be the total opposite of me: athletic all their life and wanting to go back to school, or paint a picture, or write a novel, or just step it down a notch.  The freedom to change has always been there.   The key to our futures lies in our pockets the entire time; we must merely have the courage to reach and take a hold of it.

Who you was ain't gotta be who you is or who you gonna be!


  1. You are inspiring me tonight girl!! So proud of you for pushing yourself, beyond your comfort zone!!!!


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