Who am I when my body fails me? Oh, that was an easy answer when the question was first posed to me. “I am myself in a failing body,” I thought. After all, I’m already growing accustomed to pain, and I’m still me. A little grumpier than I used to be, perhaps, but still me.
Then it hit me. One of my early narratives (and now I know, a false narrative) is that my value as a person is all in my mind and intellect, that my body is just the means by which my mind is carried around. An understandable narrative for a boy who was extremely bright and terribly non-athletic, I suppose. But my gut reaction was to assume again that “I” am my mind, and my body is an uncooperative adjunct to “me”.
“Who am I when my mind fails me?” That, to me, is a much more frightening question. It hits at my identity and sense of worth in a way that a failing body does not. Who will I be if I am some day diagnosed with early dementia? What if the part of my body that lets me down is a couple of pounds of soggy grey tissue behind my eyeballs and not just my lower back?
Questions of identity are in the eye of the beholder. Were the American founding fathers courageous patriots or insurgent rebels? The answer looks different from American or Great Britain, I think. Which answer is right? Is it possible there’s a “true” answer?
I think there is. When the eye of the beholder is the eye of God, then the answer to the question is absolutely true. Of course, there’s no way of knowing right now what God thinks of the founding fathers, but that doesn’t negate the fact that there IS a real answer and it lies with God.
And so it is with me. Who am I when my body fails me? When my mind fails me too? I am whoever God thinks Jeff is. And whether I slip into physical disability or changes in my mind, He will always know who I am and who He intends me to be. Our great hope, after all, is that there is coming a physical resurrection of our bodies – and this will be accompanied by the gift of our true names, our true identities.
Whatever happens to me, body and mind, He will never forget me, never let me slip away from His mind. I am whoever God thinks that I am. And the day is coming when the full radiance of His answer to “Who are you God? And who am I?” will be made perfect in my body, mind, heart and life.