Where Are You Most Yourself?
In his book A Sacred Year, author Michael Yankoski’s friend asks him this insightful question: “Where are you most yourself?” I’m convinced that part of our end-game here on this travel pilgrimage requires us to answer this question perhaps before the ever pervasive “where will you live” and “what will you do” queries that loom ahead.
Answering this question on Mitchell’s behalf, I can easily respond that he is most himself when he coaches. As a high school tennis coach, Mitchell shines: he possesses enthusiasm for the game, ability to teach skills, aptitude for developing winning strategies, capacity to focus in tense circumstances, skill for thinking quickly on his feet, knack for building a cohesive team, delight in working together with other coaches, and a talent for establishing an entire instructional program. So while Mitchell’s skills extend far beyond the tennis courts, I’d say he is most himself when he’s able to be on them.
Traveling far from my familiar opens my eyes to see not only how Mitchell lives in space where he is most himself, but it also grants me greater clarity into others who seem to be living in this space, too.
You may recall our tuk-tuk driver Pich who, while he very much enjoys driving his tuk-tuk, knows in his heart of hearts that where he feels most like himself is out in the Cambodian countryside where he one day hopes to build a home, grow rice and live once again off the land.
Our new friends, Brett and Lee—a lovely couple from Sydney we met while in Fiji—wouldn’t hesitate in answering the question. I think Brett would say he seems most himself when meeting new people and exploring new places as he photographs iconic and enormous architectural structures all around the world. And his wife Lee would likely answer that she’s most herself when lending her artistic prowess to the stage as she selects, produces, directs and presents brand new, culture-enlightening plays to the world.
I think about our beloved media specialist in Bryan, Ohio, Ms. Vickie, who makes visiting the library feel like a homecoming for each of the children and their families who come for a story, a craft, a book… or even for a little air conditioning during the heat of summer. She seems most herself behind the children’s desk making all kinds of reading recommendations to all who will hear.
And there’s also my friend Julie who seems most herself when bending an ear to any child in her path, whether it be her own children, students in her preschool classes, my own kids or complete strangers at the grocery store. She is most herself in the space where she has opportunity to mentor and guide the young.
I reflect on my friends April and Abby, sisters who clearly feel most themselves in the kitchen together, creating amazing dishes that draw friends and family eagerly to the table for nourishment of both body and soul.
Why is it that on this pilgrimage around the world I can answer the question, “Where are you most yourself?” for others—whether they be strangers or friends—better than I can answer the question for myself??
Where AM I most myself? Perhaps at a place like Mayuko’s table learning a new skill while meeting new friends and learning their stories? Is it possible I feel most myself when walking along the streets of a place like Hiroshima perceiving both the pain and the promise from the soil on which one of the world’s greatest atrocities took place? Or maybe I feel most myself when in a place such as Siem Reap, Cambodia praying for a new friend to come to know Jesus?
It might be that I am most myself when, after processing both the epically small but impactful as well as the profoundly large and meaningful moments of my life, I set them to words. And it might be I feel most myself when those words resonate loud with fellow humans, sparking dialogue or bringing comfort, inspiring good or affecting change.
Perhaps I am most myself when seated across the table vulnerably sharing with and eagerly listening to those who speak of what they’re learning, how they’re growing, why they’re aching, and what they’re pursuing.
Maybe I’m most myself in all of these circumstances?
For sure, this year of travel teaches me that each of this “FAMtastic 4” needs to discover where we are most ourselves. And then we need to find ways to get ourselves into those spaces as often as possible.
The words of poet E.E. Cummings wrap up this sentiment nicely: “To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
Our travel pilgrimage comes to a close a few months from now, and I can’t answer yet where we’ll settle down or even what it is we’ll be doing. My hope, however, is that each of us understands better where we are most ourselves, and that we’ll be willing to move mountains so each of us can live there.