Every now and then, a passage in a book or scene from a movie will grab my attention and resonate with me in a particularly striking way. This happened recently when I read these few lines from Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel “American Wife” in which the protagonist reflects on her relationship with her deceased grandmother:
She was the reason I was a reader, and being a reader was what had made me most myself; it had given me the gifts of curiosity and sympathy, an awareness of the world as an odd and vibrant and contradictory place, and it had made me unafraid of its oddness and vibrancy and contradictions.
Aside from being a lovely tribute to an important role model and companion — which is satisfying to read, even if the characters are fictional — as well as a reminder of all the wonderful gifts of reading, these lines got me thinking about the question: what has made me most myself?
I’d have to agree with Sittenfeld’s protagonist that being a reader has significantly contributed to my development as a person; reading has taught me innumerable lessons — emotionally and intellectually — and has been a consistent and dominant source of pleasure, information and expansion within my life. But other experiences have also “made me most myself.”
For starters, having an older sister and two younger brothers has given a distinct shape to my life. I often joke that siblings are a few of the only people who can truly call you out on your flaws in a way that promotes change without compromising the relationship (and it’s worth noting here that this isn’t true within all sibling relationships, which can be difficult and abusive; I’m lucky that it’s true for me). Because my siblings see me unguarded — I’m not on my best behavior when I’m with them —I give them ample opportunity for critique. I can say with certainty that I am a kinder, less judgmental person than I once was because my siblings gave me a hard enough time enough of the time for being judgmental or unkind that I felt compelled to change.
On top of that, my siblings are built-in friends; we provide humor, fun and care for each other and our relationships give me a cloak of security and happiness as I venture through life. My siblings impact my life greatly; they have helped make me myself.
So have the places that I’ve lived, particularly the rural Pennsylvanian town in which I grew up. The best way I can describe my childhood and teen years spent in a landscape marked by cornfields is slow. Businesses closed by 9 each night, people rested on Sundays, and for the most part, children didn’t participate in a myriad of extra curricular activities; we went to school, played an instrument or a sport, perhaps, helped out a bit around the house, and then were left to our own devices. A rural town has its drawbacks for sure, and I don’t mean to glorify one particular lifestyle — there are so many good ways to live — but it is abundantly clear to me that the pace of my childhood impacted the way I live my life as an adult.
Slowness in my childhood instilled in me the ability to self-entertain in any circumstance, because I got such a tremendous lot of practice in it as a kid. I can’t think of the last time I thought, let alone uttered, the words “I’m bored.” My hometown also led me to value simplicity; I don’t need a lot — whether that be activity, things or entertainment — to be content.
What has made you most yourself?
Asking this question can help you examine your identity and feel the pleasure of gratitude as you reflect on the people, places and experiences that have molded you into the person who you are.
Teresa lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church and dabbles in hospital chaplaincy. She has a BA in English, a Master’s in Divinity, and a passion for thinking about the intersection of spirituality, self-improvement, and well-being. Her perfect day includes slowly savoring a morning cup of coffee, reading for work and for fun, and receiving snail mail.