Who Am I?


This we know: Our past experiences and relationships have a profound presence in who we are today and how we relate to others. Here, Becky Allender shares a poetic essay inspired by the I Am From project, an artistic exploration of the people, places, and stories that help shape our identities. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.

I am from perfectly made beds and nothing ever left on the floor.

I come from a Scottish mother in Throckmorton, Texas. A redhead. A terror. A strong one disgruntled with life. Elva escaped the orphanage, but her two younger brothers did not. She was an adult toddler who took care of her flighty, artistic mother. Her silent, quiet, rancher father died young of melanoma with five dollars in the bank. There was no conversation that helped her grieve.

I am from Buick Electra 225s and Highlander sailboats and BMW motorcycles.

I come from a dad named Paul who fled to double feature films in Grandview, Ohio most evenings after his mother died of painful bone cancer. He was her massage therapist after school. As a 10-year-old he was up at 4:30am for his first paper route, and after school another paper route finishing, hopefully, by 5:30pm. He sometimes would sit on neighbors’ back steps to be able to hear and remember the sound of a mother’s voice at a dinner table.

I am from a dining room of perfection with a shimmering chandelier and something always simmering on the stove, aromatic, bold, and bubbling.

I come from a violent birth. Placenta previa. Born in March, instead of May. My mother hemorrhaging in an elevator, and swift surgeon hands saved our lives. My manmade birthmark on my right cheek still survives.

I am the middle, a peacemaker between a disgruntled mom and an orphaned man who sometimes proved volatile and unpredictable.

“I am the middle, a peacemaker between a disgruntled mom and an orphaned man.”

I come from a salesman stockbroker and a striving philanthropist. The ups and downs of the Dow Jones Industrial Average created depressions or joy that were the wallpaper of our home and our souls.

I am a lean, sinewy child who couldn’t fall asleep. I have two recurring dreams: One is a dream of German soldiers bursting into our house. The middle girl never flees, but somehow is always able to climb on the top shelf of a closet and hide in a hatbox.

Three times a week I am lost in Methodist traditions and Southern Baptist insertions. I love the church’s beautifully framed pictures of Jesus in Gethsemane and Jesus with the little children around him. I love children’s church and singing wholeheartedly with the big kids behind me. I remember how it feels to walk on linoleum hallways in white or black patent leather shoes. I can hear the sound of my footsteps in my head.

I am from the native ground of the Wyandotte tribe with Chief Leatherlips’ grave nearby.

I am from Buckeye trees and red geranium blossoms and raked leaves and weeded gardens.

I am from knowing what’s right and finding fault with others.

I am from never speaking unkindly about my family and being thankful for FDR.

I am from homemade vegetable beef soup, Fritos, and ice cream.

I am from the 12-year-old great, great, great, great-grandfather captured by Apaches while at school one day.

I am from immaculate photo albums, fine china and Waterford crystal, and piano practicing every day.

I am from lots of evenings watching television shows and eating ice cream on the couch.

I am from watching the Beatles, Ed Sullivan, JFK’s funeral, and the moon landing alongside my family.

Most of all, like you, I am from the great I Am. I am the violent intersection of heartache and loss and the dream of God. I am the one who desires and delights in the God who made me, and I am the one who reveals what God is.

And who are you? What I have written needs to be penned by you. All you need to do is ask the question: Where am I from? What are the landscapes, people, smells, food, sounds, and stories that have framed you to be the “I am” that you are? This work originated with poet George Ella Lyon and writer Julie Landsman, who created the I Am From project.

How can I celebrate who I am if I don’t know where I am from? How can I celebrate you if you don’t know or won’t share where you are from? How are we to reveal the goodness of the God whose name burns in the flames of a fiery bush if we don’t have a hint of our own name? It is good to meet you. Won’t you tell me your name and where you are from?